You might have seen my recent post about the mistakes I made while I was in Australia. If not, you can read it here.
Go head and read it, I can wait.
Done? Good. Feeling better about yourself now that you’ve realised how much of an idiot I am? Awesome.
But I must have done something right in my two years there, right? I must have made some good decisions, yes?
Of course. I wouldn’t have fallen so in love with living in Sydney and Melbourne if I hadn’t had some good times. And there were a lot of good times.
So this is the follow-up to that post, the things I’m proud of.
12 Things I Did Right In Australia
1. I didn’t pay a company to open a bank account for me and find me a job
You wouldn’t believe the amount of emails I get asking which company I can recommend to help people who are travelling to Australia on a working holiday visa open an Australian bank account and find a job for them. And I get it, ok? I get that it feels like a huge deal to open up a bank account in a completely different country, to find a job in a city that you’ve never been to before.
Wanting to let someone else take the reigns and sort everything out for you seems appealing when all you really want to do is research all the amazing things you’re going to do when you get there.
But here’s the thing: getting a company to do those things for you is expensive. As in hundreds of Australia dollars expensive.
Here’s another thing: you can totally, 100% do these things yourself.
Want to know how to open a bank account in Australia? You take your identification, and your visa details, and you walk into a bank (I used NAB) and you ask the nice person at the counter if you open a bank account. You might need to provide an address to open it, but you can normally just pick up the bank card and few days later.
I understand that having someone else take control of these things as a time in your life when you’re probably feeling totally not in control, but it’s a lot of money to waste on something you can essentially do yourself, right?
I didn’t pay a company. Instead, I went to the bank on my second day in Sydney to open an account and three weeks later I had a job at an events company. Yes it was a bit scary, not knowing when I’d find a job, but I’d rather that than have some company lump me on whatever job they wanted just to make some money.
2. I got out of my comfort zone
As if leaving my job and moving to the other side of the world wasn’t enough (oh, and getting on a plane. Did I mention I’d never been on a plane before flying to Australia) I made sure that I pushed myself a bit more out of my comfort zone.
That’s not to say that I was always successful. In fact most of my memories from surfing on the Gold Coast involve a lot of falling, a lot of gasping for breathe, and swallowing sea water, and retching into the ocean, and cutting my knees open. It wasn’t pretty, but those 3 seconds when I stood up on my board felt amazing, like I’d actually accomplished something.
I made a little mistake when I went jungle surfing in Cape Tribulation; I thought about it way too much. I sat on the edge of the platform, already feeling the flip in my stomach that I knew would come when I lowered myself off the side. Scaring myself.
But I eventually did it, and it kind of set me up for other things. Things like jumping down a water backwards, in the dark, underground.
Because the scary stuff always feel amazing afterwards, right?
3. I went back to somewhere I fell in love with again and again
Yes it was Byron Bay.
And can you blame me? Really?
4. I travelled the east coast in a campervan
The east coast is hugely popular with backpackers and travelling up or down it either on the greyhound bus or in a rented car or campervan is one of the things I always recommend to people who ask me for tips for Australia. I couldn’t stand the thought of spending half the time on a coach though so we opted to rent a campervan for a month and a half and drive from Sydney to Cape Tribulation, then back down to Cairns where we’d hand the van back over and fly to New Zealand.
Living in a campervan was probably one of my favourite experiences in Australia. There’s just something really special about cooking your dinner outside, then drinking beers while the sun goes down on your camp site, and being able to up and go whenever you want. I don’t think it would’ve been the same if we’d gone for the greyhound bus option.
5. I quit my job to live in Bondi
A month of uninterrupted beach life where I rarely wore more than shorts and a bikini, where I spent early mornings running along the promenade, and weekends doing the Bondi to Coogee beach walk, where I rented an apartment opposite the beach and made like a Bondi local. It was heaven.
6. I moved to Melbourne on a whim
And the short version of that story goes a bit like this: I went to do some WWOOFing on a farm in Central NSW, the people were horrible, I was scared, I got the train to Newcastle, and then got the train to Sydney, and went to stay with some friends in Sydney to Sort My Life Out.
And then kind of thought, well, I’ve not been to Melbourne yet…
That’s what I love about travel, about expat life, working abroad; there’s a sense of freedom that sometimes you don’t get back home.
Although, of course, I’ve moved to new cities in the UK with just my suitcase too.
7. I made friends for life
Even though I moved to Australia with my then-boyfriend and spent the whole two years there with him I still ended up meeting a few people who I still to this day consider friends. If you’ve ever travelled as a couple you’ll know that this can sometimes be hard. Being in a couple can make you less approachable, and you find yourself wondering why you’d need to meet new people when you already have each other.
I’d make friends but never got really close to people until I started working in a cafe in Melbourne where I met two girls who I still consider my friends today, even though we live miles apart. We bonded over a mutual hatred for our jobs, then over cocktails, then gigs, then dancing until the small hours, then wine in my apartment before getting chatted up by some creepy guys in an even-creepier St Kilda club.
8. I tried new foods
Before I moved to Australia I was really, really unadventurous with food. I mean it’s not like I ate nothing, I just didn’t have that many opportunities to try new things.
All of that changed when I moved to Australia.
Suddenly there were interesting and exciting new foods to try, foods that I’d never have been able to go out for in my small home town. I tried laksa for the first time at a vegetarian restaurant opposite my flat in St Kilda, Melbourne. I tried seafood for the first time at a Thai restaurant with a tuk tuk out front in Sydney. I tried octopus at a work lunch where my boss had ordered a seafood paella for the whole table to share. I tried crocodile on a pizza at a pub in The Rocks, and kangaroo at the vineyard I worked on to get my second year visa.
And it felt amazing to not be fussy, to say “yes of course I’ll eat something that looks like it could be used to stop me slipping over in the bath” (because, really, octopus is just an edible bathmat, right?). It felt so good to say “yes I’ve spent the morning watching kangaroos in the next field while I picked grapes in the vineyard but I’d love to see one on my dinner plate tonight too” (because is there anything more Aussie than this?)
Some of my favourite foods are the ones that I tried when I first started travelling so I’m really glad I pushed myself to try new things.
9. I got a tattoo
Because who’s got room in their suitcase for souvenirs, right?
10. I got an office job
A lot of the traditional ‘backpacker’ jobs you’ll find in Australia are either in bars, restaurants, or working in a call centre trying to get people to change their electricity suppliers.
In fact, when I first moved to Sydney I did a one day RSA (responsible service of alcohol) course so that I could legally serve alcohol in a bar or restaurant and started looking for those kinds of jobs.
Then I realised that it really wasn’t for me. I’ve worked in hospitality in England, and even though I knew that working in a pub would probably free up a lot of my time during the day to explore, I wanted to be earning enough money to be able to also travel and live comfortably.
I started looking for office jobs, and a couple of weeks later I’d secured a role at an events company where I was earning about $25AUD/hour.
Of course, working in an office meant that I was basically living the same life I had at home, right? Why would I move to the other side of the world to just jump straight back into a 9-5?
So many people have asked me this, asked me what the point of moving was when I basically swapped one desk for another.
Well for starters the money was good, and I was able to save a lot more to travel than I ever did at home. Working in an office meant that I got professional experience while I was abroad, something that I’m still really proud to put on my C.V, and I was able to make new friends, live like a local, and make the most of my weekends (something I never did at home, really).
That office job also saw me travelling interstate to help out at various events around Australia which was an amazing opportunity that I never expected when I first applied for the job.
11. I spent a week, rather than a couple of days, on the Great Ocean Road
There are numerous tour operators in Melbourne who will take you down the Great Ocean Road in just one or two days but I hated the thought of doing a whistle stop tour of a journey that’s famous for it’s views of the ocean, and the Twelve Apostles. Instead, we hired a campervan and drove it ourselves, stopping off at campsites along the way. We had enough time to watch the sun set from the beach in Lorne, to hike to Erskine Falls, and to see the Twelve Apostles for as long as we wanted….twice.
12. I did my farm work to get my second year visa
I don’t know what the rules are for other nationalities, but for Brits in Australia on a working holiday visa the only way you can extend your time in the country is by getting a company to sponsor you or doing 3 months of rural work. You can only do this work in certain postcodes (obviously all in the Australian countryside) and, given the amount of travellers who want to do this type of work, you could find yourself packing mangoes, picking pears, or doing general farm work.
You’re invariably in the middle of nowhere and completely out of your comfort zone, unless you grew up around poisonous spiders and snakes in which case the whole thing should be a breeze.
I ended up working on a vineyard that was being run by a friend of a friend, living in a huntsman-infested caravan, and almost stepping on an eastern brown snake, one of the most deadly in Australia. I was so far out of my comfort zone I couldn’t even SEE my comfort zone.
BUT, I am truly grateful for the entire experience because when that email came through, as I sat on a hostel bed in Melbourne city, saying that my second year had been granted I knew I’d worked for it, and I knew that the experiences (good and bad) had all been worth it.
What about you guys, what are the things you did right on your travels?