Over the past three months, Gabby Hopkins has resumed her work with children with behavioral difficulties and autism in her hometown of Abergavenny, Wales. Prior to, she availed herself of the Australian Travel and Work visa, spending two and a half years living and adventuring across Australia and East Asia. At just twenty-six years old, she has already lived in six countries and traveled to sixteen. Her favorite place to live hands down is Melbourne where she says as a lesbian she is free “to completely be herself.” In her small village in South Wales, she says, “Being a lesbian is virtually unheard of or frowned upon so traveling for me was a great way of being able to be comfortable with my sexuality—especially in Melbourne where it was so multicultural and gay-friendly.” Having spent two years living in the city which was voted five times the most livable city in the world, she does admit to enjoying the rest of the country as well, “Every time you enter a new state [in Australia] it’s like being in a completely different country. The lifestyles and cultures are so diverse.” In the two and half years living and traveling in Asia and Australia, Gabby says, “I never once had an issue being gay if anything I would have more of an issue expressing myself in Wales than overseas.”
Gabby’s entry into Australia was facilitated by a website called Grasshopper Travel. A unique experience, members are thrown together with eleven other young travelers from around the globe. Together for six weeks, they drove from Sydney to Cairns where they stayed in motels, hostels, villas and national parks. They took part in a variety of adventure activities. They were filmed along the way and in exchange for reduced rates, they gave testimonials in their various languages. According to Gabby, “This was my first real experience living with different people with different backgrounds and cultures. I made my first bunch of international friends and years later, I am still in close contact with the people I met.”
After the road trip, Gabby spent the next seven months living in Melbourne. After which time she had to complete 88 days of rural work in order to be eligible for a visa extension. According to the Australian Government, rural work may be done on a farm, in a fishery or mine. Gabby opted for fruit picking and packing in the Outback. “I lived in a working hostel with fifty other backpackers. I shared a dorm room with sixteen people and worked 12-hour shifts Monday–Friday in the citrus factory. On the weekends, I picked fruit. Farm work, as anyone will tell you can be one of the best and worst experiences of your life. But, I wouldn’t change it for the world as I met some of my closest friends on the farm,” she honestly states.
Living with people from twelve nationalities taught her a lot about how different people live and how to respect other peoples’ lifestyles and cultures. “The whole farm ethos was to promote equality and inclusion,” she explains. It was on the citrus farm where she met her girlfriend a Dutch traveler and made friends with people from twenty other countries with whom she would later travel around Asia and Australia.
When her farm time was up, Gabby decided to fulfill a life-long dream of training Muay Thai at a real Thai boxing gym. A practitioner of the sport since age 12, Gabby says, “The six weeks I spent at Rawai were like a dream come true! It was everything I expected and more. I instantly fell in love with the Thai culture—the friendly locals, the amazing food and Thai boxing gyms and fight nights. Everywhere I went, I was in my element. I met so many incredible people from all over the world who were training at the gym for all different reasons and it was great to be a part of a little community again.”
When she left Rawai, she and a group of friends from the farm set out to explore Asia. “I lived with a tribe for a short while in Vietnam. I hiked through rice fields and saw animals being slaughtered for the families’ evening meals. I visited schools and even had an orphan child who spoke no English follow me around for two days.” She calls this part of her trip the “eye opener” and credits travel for making her more appreciative of her advantages. “I am grateful for who I am and what I have. I am always looking to give back to the community where I can.And, next year I will be volunteering with Helping Hands,” she excitedly explains.
After her Asian adventure, she flew back to Australia to complete the last year of her visa. She split her time between Melbourne and Perth. Meeting up with another friend from the farm, she spent two weeks driving the 3600 kilometers from Perth to Broome. She recounts, “We drove through the desert and visited all the national parks. We went gorge walking, scuba diving with manta rays and reef sharks, fed wild dolphins, and paddled in shallow waters with sting rays. We even swam with two sets of humpback whales and their calfs, it was by far the best experience of my life.” The West Coast was exactly how she imagined wild Australia—it was untouched and not at all touristy. During this leg of the journey, she was able to interact and learn about Aboriginal culture.
With no second thoughts, Gabby says, “Australia was just awesome and if I could give up my British passport to live there I most certainly would. I miss it every day.” As she tries to settle back into a Welsh life, she keeps her eye on the future,“I still have an addiction or the travel bug, my plans are to save up all year and head back out to Asia. I will travel to the parts I missed, volunteer at a project, and then spending a good three to six months Thai boxing before venturing to New Zealand to live and travel.” Like Australia, New Zealand offers young travelers a work and travel visa.
Her advice for those ladies thinking of traveling on their own,”Do it! The world has too much to offer. You can’t just stay in one place. You educate yourself in each country you visit, you learn so much about who you are and the people around inspire you. Life is too short, surround yourself with people on the same journey with the same goals and you’ll achieve great things.” While she says she misses the fast paced lifestyle and access to beautiful water Melbourne offers she knows, “There is so much more of the world to see and 2018 is my second chapter.” In the future, Gabby would like to continue her work with special needs children overseas.