For years I had wanted to go to Australia. Twice I planned to fly into Sydney for New Years Eve, and twice those plans fell through. When I started this trip, I knew there was always a possibility that I’d end up in Australia, but I knew there were so many reasons why I shouldn’t go. Who goes to Australia in the winter? Do they even have a winter? Where do you go after flying all the way down there? Eventually I found the answer to all of those questions and more.
Armed with my one-year ‘Working Holiday Visa’, I arrived in Australia touting grand ideas of finding a part-time job and spending a few months in Melbourne. While South East Asia greeted me like a king with its $4 beachside meals and 50-cent beers, Australia greeted me with $12 beers, $30 entries, and a kick in the teeth. I left Australia a month later with a kangaroo sized hole in my bank account and the realization that I spent more during this one month – in this one country – than I had spent in the previous five countries. I discovered that without recent experience working in a restaurant or a coffee shop that the majority of jobs available involved picking fruit and testing the limits of my humility – a trait I quickly realized I lacked. Along the way I explored the graffitied streets of Melbourne and worked north along the beach filled eastern coast to Cairns. I found that the entire road north is paved with expensive tourist traps and gap-year teens with nothing to do but get drunk and screw. Perhaps I was jealous, or perhaps I had become too old for that shit – I’ll never know.
Contrary to what popular culture would have you believe, Australia is not a country meant to be wandered aimlessly in pursuit of a personal awakening. Australia is a country you must actually plan for in order to conquer – a task I was attempting to avoid. In hindsight, there are a dozen things I could point out that I would do differently if I was planning a trip to Australia. Here are a few:
- Melbourne in the winter is cold! It’s not so cold that it will snow, but its so cold that arriving with only shorts and a collection of mostly sleeveless t-shirts is going to lead to a bad time. I quickly found myself shopping for jeans and a jacket.
- It’s difficult to make ‘spur of the moment’ travel decisions in Australia. With hours of driving between even its mid-sized cities, getting anywhere in Australia requires an element of planning and preparation. Flying is fastest but expensive, and ‘hop-on hop-off’ buses run on a very limited time schedule – sometimes offering only one pick-up time over the course of a day.
- Hostels are expensive in Australia! Whereas my total daily expenses in South East Asia could be kept below $30, Australian hostels started at around $35 per night. You’ll soon find yourself avoiding days of ‘just bumming around’ – instead opting to cram as many things possible into a single day. Arriving in Australia with a limited budget is a surefire way to find yourself broke, or simply spending more money than you had intended to in order to have a good time.
As for what I did do in Australia – a lot of roaming around people watching, exploring cities, and taking advantage of the sunny coastlines. I had my first CouchSurfing interaction with someone who had only recently returned from her own trip to Europe. I met back up with an old friend from undergrad that I hadn’t seen in nearly 10 years. I took a lot of pictures, and drank an absurd amount of coffee (a national obsession in Melbourne).
I also ran like hell out of Australia. Sometime in the future, I plan on running like hell back into the country. I left so many stones unturned and feel like I need to go back to finish what I started. Instead of scuba gear I’ll bring camping gear. Instead of buying a bus pass I’ll buy a motorcycle, road bike, or 4×4. Instead of showing up in the winter, I’ll go back in the dead of summer. Instead of leaving one month into my 1-year visa, I’ll wait until the very last day of my visa before I leave. And I’ll be damned sure to have an international drivers license too …something tells me you can’t bribe Australian police officers as easily as the ones in Vietnam. While it may sound like my experience was completely negative, in the end I really did enjoy my time in Australia and it was certainly one of my favorite places to walk around and photograph.