In 2013, I was a recent graduate from William Woods University in Fulton, MO and made the decision to embark on an adventure I had been planning on for years. I wanted to teach English in Vietnam and after having a successful “moving out of the country” garage sale, I was able to pack all of my belongings into one suitcase and I was off. My boyfriend at the time was an incredible travel partner and after saying our goodbyes to family and friends in Missouri, and my hometown in Alameda, CA, we were off for our year abroad.
We caught our departing flight out of San Francisco’s International Airport and I was on my way to Vietnam, my mother’s home country. I ended up only spending one week there because a typhoon was quickly heading towards Ho Chi Minh City, which is where I was staying.
Enjoying one of my last Vietnamese iced coffees
So it was decided to take a vacation and to spend one month in Bali, Indonesia. Little did I know, the one month soon turned into three and that the little island was going to be the start of an adventure that would change my life forever.
Tegalalang Rice Terraces in Bali, Indonesia
This is where the story takes a turn and we get a little bit closer to how I ended up going from a recent college grad, to aspiring English teacher, to then becoming a farmer and aspiring hot air balloon pilot.
After spending time with an Australian man who went by the name of “Aza”, his persuasive personality quickly changed all plans and I decided to up and move to Australia. His stories about working down under made the place sound like a dream – a pretty good place to make money as a farmer and just a beautiful place that was a must see. Soon after these discussions, I booked a one way ticket and did the 2 hour plane hop to the land of plenty.
I found myself living in a small shared home and at one point having 17 roommates. I was farming next door for a very traditional Italian family – which I quite enjoyed when my body didn’t feel like it was going to completely shut down from working 10-15 hour days.
13 roommates out exploring Australian rainforests
The property was interesting with a small 2 bedroom house, tennis court, pool and outdoor bathroom. It was surrounded by tropical plants and and trees which made it feel like we were living in a rainforest. In reality we were in a rural farming town called Mareeba. Hidden amongst the trees, there was another home where our landlord Neal and his wife Debbie lived.
Neal was a commercial hot air balloon pilot. I was in disbelief at first that this was true, because it had never crossed my mind that this could actually be an occupation. After a few months, Neal surprised a few of us and offered to take us for a flight the following morning.
You should probably know something…
I was deathly afraid of heights.
Seeing how the story ends, you’d think I was joking but indeed – to this day I am afraid of heights..better but still couldn’t pay me enough to walk out on the glass boxes at the Sears tower.
My first flight I remember shaking and telling everyone that I’ve actually decided against it and didn’t want to go. I finally was convinced to get into the basket and was placed next to the pilot compartment to have a little peace of mind.
Excited but terrified!
I quickly sat on the basket floor and was bracing myself for what literally was the craziest and scariest thing i’ve forced myself to do in my entire life. The balloon was so calm during lift off, I actually had no idea that we were actually off the ground. As I slowly stood – this is where it gets really cliche and cheesy – this was the moment I fell in love with ballooning. I had never experienced anything like this, the sensation is unexplainable and I had never felt so free and at peace. After the flight, i’m sure everyone around me was easily over hearing my rants and raves about how it was the best day of my life.
Official first flight photo!
From that moment on, I jumped on every opportunity to tag along with Neal to work and hop on a flight.
I arrived back in the US at the very end of 2014. Fast forward 3 years and a few months later, here I am, officially launching my very own small hot air balloon business.
Who would have thought…
This was where it all began.