Real Life

REAL LIFE: Meet the travelling couple who hitchhiked back home to Australia ... via sailboat!

''We were finally free.''

By Laura Trieste

Tamara Ilic, 27, from Coolamon, NSW shares her story with Take 5's Laura Trieste:

My jaw dropped as I checked the flight prices on my phone.
"The plane tickets to Australia are now $15,000," I said to my partner, Jake, feeling deflated.
It'd been almost a year since COVID-19 had derailed our plans of spending two years living in Thailand and working as tour guides.
We lost our new jobs within days of arriving in Bangkok, as the pandemic cancelled tours and shut borders across the world.
After having several flights to Australia cancelled, we decided to stay put and make the most of our time in Thailand.
Jake and I were both avid explorers, so we decided to rent a car and drive up the country's beautiful east coast and record our trips for our new YouTube channel, which we called Lockdown Travellers.
Masks were mandatory and most places were deserted.
We encountered a big problem when we went travelling. (Image: Supplied)
Next we moved onto Mexico as our Thailand visas came close to running out, and had many more great adventures together as COVID restrictions allowed.
But after several months of travelling and having thousands of dollars tied up in cancelled flights, we were starting to run out of money.
We needed to get home, but flying was completely out of the question as plane ticket prices had skyrocketed.
"Why don't we sail home?" Jake suggested.
I laughed until I realised he wasn't joking.
"Neither of us has ever been sailing," I replied.
Crossing the Pacific Ocean by boat seemed like a ridiculous idea until we discovered there was a whole community on Facebook for sailboat hitchhikers.
All we had to do was find someone travelling to Australia on a yacht who'd be willing to give us a ride.
We found a different way of returning home. (Image: Supplied)
We flew to Panama after we realised there were lots of private boats travelling through there.
That's where we met our captain, an Aussie sailor with plans to cross the Pacific Ocean.
We knew it'd take months and several thousand dollars to finally make it home but it would be worth it for the amazing experiences.
I couldn't wait!
Our sailing adventure got off to a great start as we quickly learned our way around the 14m yacht, taking turns to steer, and soaking in the incredible views of the open ocean, beautiful sunrises and marine life.
But things took a turn after a couple of days when the yacht's navigational systems went out.
The boat started to fill with water as the bilge pumps stopped working, leaving us with the arduous task of dumping buckets of water hundreds of times.
We made an emergency stop in the Galapagos to repair the boat but after a day back at sea, the electronics went out again.
Trying to navigate the ocean with only an iPad while constantly dumping buckets of water was exhausting and scary, but I always had faith we'd be okay.
Dumping buckets of water. (Image: Supplied)
Jake and I were concerned though, when our captain told us this was his third time trying to cross the Pacific after a couple of unsuccessful attempts.
Two weeks into our trip, I woke up on my 27th birthday feeling frustrated to be spending it getting drenched by a big storm instead of celebrating with my family.
But Jake still managed to make my night special.
He cooked us a barbecue beef and potatoes dinner – one of the fanciest meals we'd had after days of existing on baked beans, noodles and small portions of preserved meats.
"Here's your birthday present," he said, opening his laptop.
I was overwhelmed with joy as Jake played a video he'd made full of birthday messages from family and friends he'd secretly contacted before we left Panama.
"This is amazing!" I said.
After 39 days at sea, we made it to our first stop – the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia.
Our relief at being on dry land was short-lived after we checked in with the local authorities on the island of Hiva Oa.
"This boat is totally illegal," they told us.
It was a journey with both smiles and challenges. (Image: Supplied)
After learning that our yacht had been deemed derelict on our captain's last sailing attempt and was now forbidden from entering the island, it was clear we needed a new way home.
We wandered onto shore with no idea of what to do next, until we met Fred, a lovely man who insisted on taking us out to dinner with his family.
"You're staying with us tonight," he told us.
We were in awe of his family's generosity and thrilled to have a comfortable place to sleep and a hot shower.
Fred even helped us sort out our legal issues with authorities so we were allowed to leave.
We found an American captain on Facebook who agreed to give us a ride and flew to Bora Bora to meet him.
Our second yacht adventure was smooth sailing and we shared many great times catching fish and swimming in the beautiful clear waters.
Nineteen days later, we arrived in Fiji and had a fantastic time meeting other sailing families and enjoying cultural celebrations, karaoke and great food.
It was quite the journey home! (Image: Supplied)
Our US captain wouldn't be allowed to enter Australia during the pandemic, so we started searching for another ride.
We were thrilled when a man who'd heard about our trip on the news contacted us and offered to take us home on his million-dollar yacht.
We excitedly headed to the shops to stock up on steaks, sausages, bacon, ice-cream and all the foods we'd been missing to fill up the two fridges and freezers on board.
We sailed into Queensland 10 days later.
Stepping onto Australian soil, six months after we started our sailing adventure felt like an incredible achievement.
"We made it!" I said, feeling exhilarated.
After two weeks of hotel quarantine, we were finally free to head home and enjoy some long-awaited reunions with family and friends.
Jake and I are so happy to be back, but we don't plan to sit still for long, and will be travelling around Australia in a van soon.
Our sailing trip has only inspired us to keep exploring this beautiful world as much as we can.
After so much time on the water, we plan to explore Australia by van. (Image: Supplied)

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