If you’ve read my last post about moving across the country, you can use your deductive reasoning skills for why I may have been recently absent! Let’s skip over my weak apologies and head over to the good stuff shall we?
Good stuff this way >>
Believe it or not, I have wanted to travel solo for a REALLY long time. I don’t know if I’ve seen one too many “30 Things to Do Before You Turn 30!” lists ( < oh my god it’s seriously #3…), or I just have mega wannabe vibes for some insane solo travel blogs like Adventurous Kate, The Road Les Traveled, The Blonde Abroad (I could go on) … but it’s always intrigued me.
I just think it really pushes the limits of the regular travel experience–already you’re out of your comfort zone but now it feels more adventurous when you have no one but yourself to trust and rely on. I think that makes for some great self-growth opportunities, as well as making new friends who love to travel as much as you!
So, to start from the beginning, I knew my next trip HAD to be to Australia to visit my sister in Melbourne. I was between jobs, had been saving up, and I knew it was now or never. Most of my trip was spent with my mom, sister, aunt and (78 and 82 year old!) grandparents, but I headed down to the southern hemisphere a little early for some solo adventuring and to tick off a GIANT bucket list item, scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef!! (Sorry if you heard that shrill, uncontained squeal through the interwebs)
I’d like to introduce Reef Encounter, a company that came recommended to me by my baby bro who had done the exact same trip a few months prior…in between moving my entire life across the country, then driving that load 3,000 miles to California, a career change, and a 3 week trip to Australia, my time for in depth research was lacking and if it was good enough for my brother, it was good enough for me. And also maybe because they let you scuba dive without getting certified!!!! (#brokelife) Read on for the once-in-a-lifetime experience!
I flew the 15 hour flight from LAX to Melbourne where I’d be staying with my sister, dropped my larger bags at an airport luggage storage for the next few days, and went back through security with a small backpack to fly with JetStar to Cairns. Considering I only needed a bathing suit, towel, and sunscreen, I had no luggage problems flying with the discount airline.
I arrived in Cairns a night before my scuba dive trip because the smaller ferry that would take me to the liveaboard boat departed bright and early in the morning. I booked a cheap hostel and walked to the docks the next morning. Lax > Melbourne > Cairns > Uber > Hostel > Boat … only took me about 36 hours to get out on the open sea, wind in my hair, salt on my skin, sailing towards the Great Barrier Reef — “second star to the right, straight on till morning!” — (name that movie).
Cost: The 2 Day Liveaboard Resort Dive
The all in cost to scuba dive and stay one night on the boat was $680 Australian Dollars about $500 USD at the time I went. I think it was a fair price (which I’ll explain why below) and I wish I had stayed longer.
I also chose to share a room to get the cheapest rate–I really liked that option since I was traveling alone and it allowed me to meet some people. It is good to keep in mind that they will choose your roommate for you if you’re traveling alone, and it is more expensive to book a room to yourself. All the other young people who were traveling solo also opted to share a room. It’s just like staying in a hostel, except you only have one roommate. You spend most of your time on the decks and in the water, so you really only need a place to rest your head. Plus you get to make awesome friends like Parker!
Check out my friend Parker’s instagram! @parkerbilecky He kindly donated some of his go pro shots for this post because of course mine died and I forgot my charger while stranded on a boat in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef… #badblogger
Amenities and What’s Included:
- All your scuba gear (fins, mask, wetsuit, tank, weights…), although if you have a mask and fins I would bring your own–probably better quality than what they had
- 5 scuba dives (WHAT?!?!) I hadn’t done too much research on how much it would cost to go scuba diving just once (let alone without being certified), but for me $500 for 5, 30 minute dives, gear included, with a tour guide diver to take you around the reef at each spot, seemed worth it to dive the Great Barrier Reef.
- Introductory lesson to scuba diving
- An experienced scuba instructor tour guide to take you down and show you the reef every time you dived. This was invaluable! Especially if you’re recently certified and didn’t want to waste precious minutes just trying to find the best parts of the reef. If you were already a certified diver, getting a tour guide costs you extra.
- A twin bed in a shared room above deck–that means legit windows overlooking the Coral Sea, no tiny portholes.The accommodation was pretty much your typical hotel room which was more than I expected: fresh linens (pillows, sheets, comforter), fresh towels pretty much on demand, a very small ensuite bathroom (it’s a boat remember), outlets, etc.
- 5 generous meals and fresh water daily (breakfast on the first day on the ferry, lunch, dinner, breakfast, lunch)
- Lounge area with books, couches, bar area etc.
- Jacuzzi tub on the bow of the boat
- Rooftop lounge area for sunbathing
- Alcoholic and specialty drinks at the bar
- Night dive (scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life!–worth it)
- Professional photos (from the sweetest underwater photographer!)
- Coach transfers to and from the dock
A TON of delicious food, 3 meals a day. Enough said.
Even though, I didn’t get certified, it was amazing how safe I felt down there. My introductory lesson was maybe 20 minutes long, and then they strapped me into my weights and tank and threw me in the deep end! Okay, okay I exaggerate, but in all seriousness, after living near the ocean my entire life and as a lifeguard and swim instructor of over 10 years, I understand that I am quite confident in the water. Regardless of that, the staff were extremely knowledgable and 100% on top of our safety at all times. As a non-certified diver, I was only allowed 5 dives in 24 hours–no longer than 30 minutes and no deeper than ten meters. Each time we entered the water and got out, there was a staff member documenting who was in and out of the water, also noting the depth and time stamp on our tanks.
Uhm…I swam with sharks…and not like reef sharks, like shark sharks. I’ll just leave this here for my next post.
When my brother first mentioned Reef Encounter, he also mentioned that there was another company called Quicksilver that probably catered more to the young single backpacker, but I looked into it and I felt Reef Encounter far outshined in offerings. The staff on the Reef Encounter boat could not have been MORE friendly. All were enthusiastic, experienced divers that immediately put me at ease. You could tell they were passionate about their jobs and loved living on the water exploring one of the most famous reefs in the world, which made your experience that more special and memorable. I was always terrified of scuba diving and always said I’d rather go sky diving! But I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed diving. It was truly meditative, taking deep, slow breaths while floating above the world–in this case over the water world…it’s such a serene feeling!
This was a great way to test the waters (hehe) of solo travel since I got to meet plenty of others who were traveling on their own. Instead of wandering around a city, I was confined to a boat with others traveling on their own and trying something new. I’ve always thought of myself as an introvert who forces herself to be outgoing. It’s difficult, exhausting, and scary but always worth it. I met someone who works at Nasa, a college student who just finished a semester while sailing around the pacific, and a girl around my age who just bought her first house in Denver. Also, if you’re all about that solo travel life and you really never want to leave the boat, you could opt to become a “hostie” and stay on the boat and dive for free while working to earn your keep–have to say I was pretty tempted!
Over to you! Have you ever scuba dived? Have you dived or snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef? Share below!