Travel Stories

A (Road) Trip Down Memory Lane…

I'll start with this: there are many worthy ways to travel.

And now that this has been acknowledged, I want to make a case for my favorite kind: the road trip. It's not that I don't like other modes of transportation, I do. I am enchanted by trains, in awe of air travel, and downright giddy when it's time to board a boat. But something special happens when you're on a stretch of road and faced with many miles…

It's a sense of freedom and wonder that can only be reached through the process of physically getting yourself from place to place, which is immensely satisfying. You become the conductor, pilot, and captain—in charge of securing adventure for yourself. This autonomy is intoxicating to me.

Plus, watching a landscape change as you traverse from here to there is an amazing thing. No matter the distance, a road trip gives you immediate access to the pleasure of travel. It's music up, windows down, and game on.

A few road trips come to mind when I conjure up my favorites. There was the time I seriously bonded with my fellow bridesmaid on our way to a friend's St Louis wedding. Also, when I was equally twitterpated over Bryce Canyon and the guy I explored it with. Or when a group of us piled into Amanda's Prius (which got the best gas mileage) and headed to Chicago as a pack of broke and rowdy eighteen-year-olds. Good times…

Today, I'd like to share about a short road trip that took place in what I know to be a very special part of the world: Western Australia. Since Mother's Day is approaching, I also want to call attention to my most loyal travel companion, my mom.

In 2018, Mom and I embarked on a six-week adventure to circumnavigate the globe. Our destinations were largely chosen based on which flights were eastbound and affordable. This is how we ended up in Western Australia, or, as the locals call it, "the WA."

It is a beautiful place, but it's not too popular with US tourists. With Melbourn, Sydney, Brisbane, and the Great Barrier Reef all in the east, the WA is a bit more obscure. Naturally, I Googled "Things to do in Western Australia," and when I did, a particular experience caught my eye.

Trouble was, it was several hundred kilometers south of Perth, in a town called Manjimup. For the age-old and excellent reason of "Why not?", we decided to rent a car and chase down this little thing I wanted to do (that was misleading; it is not little).

A mere three and a half hours, this was nowhere near the longest road trip I've taken, but it's certainly one of the most special. Our little Australian excursion opened my eyes to much; the journey from Perth to Manjimup will stay with me forever.

I didn't do any of the driving, but acted the part of faithful navigator while Mom took the wheel. She handled the whole left-side-of-the-road situation quite well (except once when she pulled onto an empty road and old habits took over, which made for a good laugh).

Western Australia has a magical, relaxed quality to it. The October weather was pleasant, and there was an air of loveliness that was accentuated by the land's nomenclature. I mean, come on, is it even possible not to smile when you're driving through a place called The Shire of Donnybrook?

We quickly noticed that Australia is home to a sense of personal responsibility that I just adore. 

At home in the States, railroad crossings are gated with long wooden arms that block off traffic when it's unsafe to cross. The WA doesn't have these. Instead, you're simply expected to look for a train and execute a safe driving decision on your own accord.

We ran into this again when we stopped at a tented roadside fruit stand (snacks are an essential part of a road trip, after all). I don't remember what sort of fruit we bought; what stands out is how we bought it. It was self-service. A designated cash box sat next to a price list, completely unattended. We found this both admirable and mind-boggling.

As we mused over the wholesome honor system, a young boy wandered up to us. He knew we were Americans from our initial "hello." Enthusiastic, the boy helped us count our Australian currency for the transaction. This task wasn't too difficult, but his eagerness to help us was too adorable to deny.

Welcome to rural Australia, where railroad crossings operate on a judgment-call basis, and curious children welcome strangers at self-service roadside stands.

Though we had no need to break up our road trip, we wanted to stop and explore as much as possible along the way. So we spent our first night in Bunbury, a beach town as charming as its name implies. The sky that greeted us on the Bunbury shore was the ultimate welcome to Oz.

Beach sunsets are my favorite perk of west coast escapades. 

The next day, we sought out a breakfast spot on a local's recommendation, and you would have thought we stepped right into a fairytale. The Lavender Berry Farm (now called the Vëska Caféis a quaint stop with farm animals, homemade goods, and fluffy pancakes topped with exquisite, farm-fresh jam. We sat on purple bistro chairs at an outdoor table while tiny, vibrant birds gathered nearby, hopeful for our crumbs. The food was too delicious to leave them any.

"Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday, or whatever day of the week it is," I quipped. In true road trip fashion, all meaning of time had been lost. Delighted, we sipped tea and took in our surroundings.

Not far down the road was the thing we had come to Manjimup to see: a tree.

The Diamond Tree, a giant karri tree, stands at an astounding fifty-two meters tall. At the top sits a wooden tower. It was built in the 1940s as a fire lookout and used as such until 1974. Metal spikes corkscrew around the towering entity, a makeshift staircase for the daring.

At the base is a sign with five simple words that once again allude to Australia's knack for personal responsibility: Climb at Your Own Risk

The Diamond Tree was permanently closed to climbers in 2019 after a concerning amount of rot was discovered at its base. Well, Mom and I visited the tree in late 2018, so we'll just go with the classic what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. In the tree's long history of holding visitors high above the canopy, we must have been some of the last people to make that climb.

It was a heart-pounding ascent. About two-thirds of the way up, we encountered another sign:

While a more reasonable traveler may have headed this warning, we pushed onward and upward. At the top, we whooped and cheered!

Our adrenaline had caught up with us, so we lay flat on our backs on the wooden floor, relishing in our achievement. It was a transcendent experience, that spontaneous "savasana." I was in the land down under, yet on top of the world. I was about as far away from home as it is possible to get, yet more at ease than I had perhaps ever been while abroad. I had chased a whim to a tree on the other side of the world, and here I was in its branches. Being held by that mighty thing, high above the world... I felt so damn free.

What goes up must come down, and so we did. Thrilled with ourselves, we climbed back in the car. We were so grateful that we rented one and had ventured outside the city. Getting behind the wheel creates so much room for possibility.

On our way back to Perth, we drove by a mass on the side of the road that passed in a blur.

"What was that? A deer? A dog?!"

After a moment, we made the connection; it was a kangaroo. Not to be insensitive, but if a kangaroo doesn't win the quirky roadkill contest, I'm not sure what does. Road trip games are another essential part of the experience, after all.

We saw live kangaroos, too! Only a flash of wild ones in a far-off field, but many more at the world's most relaxed petting zoo. That experience in itself was a trip. Upon entry, the woman behind the desk simply said, "Just approach the animals from the face, everything here is pretty tame."

Our time there began with a friendly parrot who greeted us by asking for a head scratch in his Australian accent! It ended with my ecstatic tears over meeting Milo, the place's newest resident.

In all, Australia was beyond extraordinary to me. I would happily spend more time there (I would happily spend all of my time there!). I think about our time in the WA on a weekly basis.

Recently, I've come to a new understanding regarding my time traveling with Mom. As we prepped for the adventure, I remember being irritated with those who told me I was about to have a "once in a lifetime" experience. Did they not understand that I would dedicate my entire lifetime to exploring the globe? There is no doubt I will prioritize travel for all my days. To my younger mind, alluding to the fact that I would only do this once was an insult to my wanderlust.

I have gained a new understanding of what these people were getting at. Six weeks of uninterrupted mother-daughter time was the true gift. When else am I going to get that?

If you're lucky like me and have a mom with whom you share an unshakeable friendship, don't write her off as a travel companion. Sure, it's about where you go, but it's also about who you go with. My mom and I went around the world, but we could have just as much fun going around the block.

To my mom Lynn and all the other wonderful mothers in the world, Happy Mother's Day. Thanks for joining me on this trip down memory lane. Here is to the mothers, the daughters, and the wanderers!


Tess Victoria

Sherpani Team Member

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By women for women, the Sherpani Travel Blog talks about all things travel (and all things Sherpani!). From unique travel guides to general travel tips to personal stories from the women in our community, this is our space to celebrate our belief that travel restores the human spirit.

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