Anne Race, 30, Washington, UK
I was visiting a mate in Australia when an idea came to me. I could travel the country, working along the way, and donate my earnings to Book Aid International, a charity that focuses on children's literacy.
And I won't spend a cent on the way, I thought.
Australians were famous for their willingness to help out a mate, and I wanted to put it to the test. I'd start with absolutely nothing, clad in just garbage bags, and rely on the kindness of others to complete the journey.
But I wasn't going alone. I'd met Gareth, 30, and Phil, 28, eight years earlier and I was sure they'd be eager to join me.
Gareth was already in Australia when I put the idea to him. 'Are you serious?' he laughed. 'Of course,' I nodded.
'You're crazy,' he said. But apparently he was too, because he agreed to join me.
Phil was teaching in Austria and I didn't think he'd drop everything to come to Australia. I was wrong. 'I'll do it,' he said.
Weeks later we met up in Brisbane to plan our journey and drum up publicity to encourage donations. Thankfully, a company called Wicked Campers donated a campervan for the trip.
'Phew!' I sighed. 'I didn't fancy hitchhiking around Oz wearing just a garbage bag!'
On September 21, 2008, a small crowd gathered in Fortitude Valley, Qld, to watch us hand over our keys, wallets and the clothes off our backs.
'I know a mate who'll give you work,' locals told us, writing phone numbers in a donated notebook.
We were also given donations of clothes, toiletries and food, and I was touched by the kindness of these strangers.
'Here mate,' one man said to Phil, kicking off his thongs. 'You'll be needing these.'
'Thanks,' he smiled as the man walked away barefoot.
I was nervous as we set off. We could starve, freeze or run out of fuel. But I was sure the experience would be worth it.
Our first job was at an alpaca farm in Yeppoon, Qld. We had to collect alpaca droppings for samples.
'I'll have a roast dinner waiting for you afterwards,' the farm's owner, Leah, promised.
It was unexpected work, and the hot dinner at the end made it worthwhile.
On our trip, the greatest reward was meeting ordinary Australians displaying extraordinary kindness.
'Great job,' they'd encourage, slapping us on the back.
We were given jobs that had been put off for years - oiling timber bridges, cleaning out clogged gutters and scrubbing down sheds. Usually we ended up covered in dirt - not good for travellers with very little clothing or toiletries! Luckily there were plenty of public showers, and strangers usually let us use their facilities.
In Crystal Creek, Qld, we were working in a nursery when suddenly there was a loud rip. Gareth sprang up in surprise.
'You didn't just rip your shorts!' I said, laughing. 'This is my only pair!' he wailed.
It was a challenge as we couldn't just pop to the shops to replace things. Gareth used a sewing kit to stitch up his shorts. It was a good way to learn the value of our meagre possessions.
We'd assumed getting petrol would be our biggest obstacle, but most petrol-station owners happily donated a jerry can.
In Cloncurry, Qld, we arrived at a vast, secluded cattle station. The scenery was unbelievable. We laid pavers, shot at tin cans and even witnessed a wild camel giving birth.
Then early one morning, the owner woke us carrying a giant python. 'Found him in the chook pen,' he chuckled.
'Aren't you scared?' Gareth asked. 'Mate, I've grown up with these things,' he grinned.
The breathtaking scenery continued as we journeyed through the outback. Sleeping under the sky in the Northern Territory, I was mesmerised.
'I've never seen so many stars,' I breathed.
We arrived at Fitzroy Crossing, WA, on February 12, Phil's 29th birthday. We wanted to celebrate but we didn't have any money.
In a leap of faith, we told the hotel manager we'd work in exchange for beer. That night, we were clinking glasses.
'Happy birthday!' we cheered.
'This will certainly be one to remember,' Phil laughed.
Two weeks later, we arrived in Geraldton, WA, on a long weekend. Most places were shut until Tuesday. We were out of fuel and almost out of food.
'Who ate the last biscuit?' I snapped. 'Wasn't me,' Gareth said. 'I didn't,' Phil protested.
We'd spent every second together for five months so occasionally we'd row. But it was always quickly forgotten.
Checking our food supply, the selection was dismal. 'We've only got pickled fish,' I said.
The boys' faces crumpled.
'It's that or nothing,' I sighed.
Arriving in Perth a week later, none of the camp sites had a vacancy. Exhausted, we found a quiet side street in Fremantle.
'Night,' I yawned, drifting off.
Hours later, I heard a loud bang and glass shattering. 'What was that?' I stammered.
A drunken youth had thrown a bottle at our van, smashing the side window. 'We can't pay to get this fixed,' I cried.
The next day a generous man offered to help us out and even invited us to stay in his home.
'This is bliss,' I sighed, sitting in a warm outdoor spa.
A week later, a homeless man approached us. He'd recognised us from a newspaper article.
'It's great what you're doing,' he said. Then he handed us his last 45 cents. 'For the charity,' he winked. 'I'm sorry it's not much.'
I was overwhelmed. He had sacrificed all he had to help someone else. 'Thank you,' I said. Once again, we were reminded that Aussie mateship was far from a myth.
Setting out across the Nullarbor, we arrived in Adelaide on April 13, 2009. 'We're over halfway,' Gareth reminded us.
It felt like we'd been on the road forever, but each day was a new adventure. We saw the Great Ocean Road, experienced Melbourne culture, admired the coastline of southern NSW, got rained out in Sydney and camped at Glen Innes, NSW.
On May 30, 2009, after eight months of travelling, we arrived back in Brisbane. 'We made it!' we cheered.
'Aussie mateship certainly exists,' Phil said. 'That's for sure!' Gareth agreed.
Afterwards, it was difficult adjusting to real life. For days I didn't buy anything - until I spotted a delicious rhubarb crumble. 'It's the first thing I've bought in eight months!' I smiled.
We'd raised $24,700 for Book Aid International, all thanks to the generosity of Australians. We're still hoping to reach the $25,000 mark.
Today, we've been back for six weeks and I plan to write a book about the trip. It was the adventure of a lifetime and I'm a changed person.
We travelled Australia without spending a cent, thanks to hard-working Aussies, and the experience was priceless.
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