My alarm goes off and I open my eyes to a dark room. It takes me a moment to remember why the hell I’m getting up, but slowly reality comes back to me. I throw on my leggings, sports bra, and hoodie. It’s time to run. Continue reading “That Time I Ran a Half Marathon”
Let me set a scene for you here.
I’m having wine with my aunt, a friend and her mother. We start chatting about my sister and my friend’s mum suddenly calls her “the one everyone’s proud of.”
Then, suddenly, the conversation turns on me. Continue reading “My Wasted Education”
Last week, I turned twenty-three.
Turning sixteen meant I could drive a car. Eighteen meant I could vote and was (at least legally) “independent.” Twenty-one meant I could finally go out to bars. Twenty-three… Continue reading “My Twenty-Third Trip Around the Sun”
As some of you know, I lived in Australia when I studied at the University of Sydney. Now, I am preparing to move back to Sydney for another full year. Moving halfway across the world can be very overwhelming, so I created this step-by-step guide to help you through the process.
Step One: Deciding
The first step towards getting to Australia is, of course, deciding that you want to go.
Australia is a great place for a lot of reasons. It’s a faraway land that shares a lot of aspects of our Western culture, but has its own distinct culture as well. It’s an easy transition for those Americans who really haven’t been to a lot of other countries. Australia has a lot to offer in terms of geography, with beaches, outback, mountains, and cities all within a few hours of each other. It’s relatively cheap to travel around the country and I have 100% confidence that you will meet some of the coolest people in the world on your travels. After all, Australians LOVE traveling.
Before applying for a visa to Australia, you’ll want to make sure that you have access to at least $3500 USD. This is because you will need to prove that you can sustain yourself for a year in Australia when you apply for your visa. Do not fret too much if this amount is out of your range; you simply need to have that amount in your account long enough to receive a bank statement, which you will then use as part of your visa application. To accomplish this, I borrowed some money from my parents and moved my savings into my checking account. You don’t want to start your year abroad without anything saved, though, so do your best to bad your account before taking off.
Step Two: How to Get There
The most important things to do here are: get a visa and book your flight.
One of the best things about being an American applying for an Australian visa is that we have literally the easiest visa process out of all the countries. We are the only country allowed to apply for the visa online, which takes less than an hour to complete, as long as you have all of your paperwork prepared beforehand.
What You’ll Need:
- Two recent passport-sized photos of yourself
- A photocopy of your US Passport
- A photocopy of your birth certificate
- A copy of your most recent university transcript (if applicable)
- A bank statement showing that you have access to at least $5000 AUD (which, depending on the exchange rate at the time, can be as little as $3000 USD)
- About $420-450 for the visa application
The visa you will apply for is called the Work and Holiday Visa (Subclass 462). This allows for Americans between ages 18 and 31 to live and work in Australia for ONE YEAR. In order to stay longer than one year, you will need to qualify for another visa (like if you get sponsored by your employer). You have up to one year from the date your visa is granted to make your way to Australia and your year in OZ begins the day that you land in the country.
The great thing about applying for this visa is how quickly the approval comes. I received mine within two weeks this time around, and within only a few days when I applied for my student visa before. And just like that, you’re in the clear to book your flight!
Depending on where you live in America, this can be a very long and expensive flight. Because I live in Boston but have family in Los Angeles, I usually fly from Boston to LAX and stay there for a few days before continuing on to OZ.
The best fares that I have found thus far came from StudentUniverse, a travel site specifically for youth travelers under the age of 26. One-way flights from LAX to SYD can usually run you about $800-1000, but I found mine through this site for only $500! AND it was a direct flight on Virgin Australia. Other airlines that run flights on this route include Air China, Emirates, and Fiji Air, all of which have frequent sales and deals. My advice would be to start shopping for flights 4-6 months before you plan to depart, to see how the trends move. Keep in mind, the cheapest day to fly is Tuesday.
Step Three: Settling In
So, you’ve made it to Australia! The next steps for settling in should be accomplished within your first few weeks in the country. After that, you’re on your own!
Finding a Place to Live
This should be an obvious first step for those just landing in the country. Realistically, you can’t do much apartment shopping before arriving in Australia, so my advice is to wait until you get there to begin this process. Until you have a place to live, check into a hostel in whatever city you want to stay in and start making appointments to view apartments. (I know, this is scary. But trust me on this one.) Hostels usually have good rates when you book a week at a time and offer you a chance to make friends and explore the area.
The best websites for finding room rentals are Gumtree and Flatmates. Most places will list prices weekly, so just multiply by four to get your estimated monthly rent price. Typically, these websites offer places that don’t require year leases, so you should be good to rent places short-term if you want.
Get an Australian Phone
You will want to do this step in conjunction with finding a place to live and before applying for jobs. The reality is, no one will call you into an interview if they can’t figure out your phone number. I got a pay-as-you-go phone from Vodaphone for only about $30 a month. You can reload it online as frequently as you like. You’ll need to bring your passport with you to the store to purchase the phone and begin your plan.
Finding a Job
The Work and Holiday visa allows you to work for up to 6 months at one job. This is to discourage immigrants to stay longer than their year and to encourage tourism in other parts of the country.
In Australia, I got work as a bartender. Jobs in hospitality are going to be the easiest to find for American visitors. In order to work in a bar, you will need certain licenses, depending on which state of Australia you live in. For New South Wales, you will need your RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol) and your RCG (Responsible Conduct of Gambling). The latter is because most bars in Australia have poker machines on site. Both of these licenses can be completed in one day each, through programs like Barmax in Sydney. It seems a bit overwhelming, but the classes are simple and designed to make you pass. Once you have completed the class, you will get a temporary paper license and you will have to bring the paperwork to a post office to receive your hard copy card.
You can look for jobs on Gumtree as well, and this is likely the single best place to find openings. You can email your resume in response to ads, or what I found to be most effective is to take your resume in-person to the business that posted ads. They appreciate this action in Australia and you will get a higher response rate.
Opening a Bank Account
My final piece of advice is to open an Australian bank account. I opened a checking and savings account, since Australian savings accounts have strangely high interest rates. That means if you have a couple grand in the account, you will actually make some decent money on interest. I opened my account through Commonwealth Bank, which is all over New South Wales. An Australian bank account is required for having a job, as they will pay you through direct deposit.
That’s all I’ve got for now. I hope this helps someone take the plunge and join me in Australia! Feel free to send me any other questions you may have.
After several months on the road, I have had some time to reflect on what I’ve learned thus far. I have been to seven countries this summer with everything I own on my back, so here are seven key pieces of advice.
- Even if you are alone, you never really feel lonely.
I have been traveling alone this whole time, but I rarely even realize that I am alone. I spend all of my time surrounded by people, be it at the airport, a hostel, or on a bus. Strike up a conversation. Say hello (or hola, hallo, bonjour, etc). Listen to their conversations. It is next to impossible to isolate yourself when you’re on the road.
- You don’t need a lot of stuff to survive.
I regret bringing more than two shirts and a pair of shorts. And let me tell you, I really packed what I thought was the bare minimum at the time. No one cares if you wear the same black shirt everyday. No one cares if you smell bad. A lighter pack is a godsend. Don’t let your stuff hold you back.
- Visiting all the tourist monuments and museums isn’t culture.
Yeah, it’s what tripadvisor tells you to do. But I learn the most about the place I’m in my actually getting into the lives of the people who live here. I ran with Bulls at 6 am in Pamplona, Spain and then partied in the streets with the locals. I made hash brownies in Amsterdam with a local college student. DO THE THING YOU DO IN THE PLACE THAT YOU DO IT!
- Step out of your shell and you’ll make some amazing friends in an unusually short period of time.
Beer definitely helps on this one, but even without it it works. Strike up a conversation with random people around you. This was never something I did before. I am shy and generally hostile. But I made a huge effort to step out of my comfort zone and just show people who I am. I am fun, rambunctious, and uncensored. I just showed this to people straight away, and found that a lot of people actually enjoyed it. Don’t waste time being closed off or waiting for someone else to make the first move. Just do it, and you’ll end up with some awesome new friends.
- Sheets are an underrated luxury.
Honestly. I didn’t know how much I freaking loved sheets until I was without them for a month in Pamplona. My first day away from camp, I had a queen size bed with amazing white sheets. I spent about ten minutes rolling around in them before I could exist again. Sheets are amazing. I will never overlook their excellence again.
- Always pack snacks.
*but make sure these snacks won’t melt in the climate you are going to*. So yeah, I packed plenty of chocolate protein bars in my pack for the road. One day in Pamplona (40 degrees C/100 F in the shade) and they were all liquified. I learned from this, and the next time I bought snacks they were hard granola bars. But having a few in my bag at all times came in handy so often. You don’t always know where your next meal will come from and when you’ll get it, so these help keep you alive and alert. Plus, they prevent you from spending alarming amounts of money on food that you only want because you’re about to eat your own arm.
- Roll with the punches.
A detailed plan isn’t always best when you’re traveling. You miss one train and it starts a domino effect of missing trains and flights and before you know it, you’re broke and stuck in Europe forever. (Slight exaggeration, but not really). I didn’t fully plan my whole trip, but I still found myself regretting planning so much of it. I met people on the road who were like “come with us tomorrow” and my soul was screaming “YES LET’S GO” but my itinerary was like “Actually, no. You have a flight to catch.” It’s scary, but I want to try just letting the wind carry me next time. Roll with the punches. Be flexible. Take everything as a new experience and don’t let the details drag you down.
I truly found my home on the road and in the people I met along the way. I grew roots and wings all at the same time. This summer was one of the most terrifying, rewarding experiences of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
You really don’t need 5 shirt options.
I read several blogs about bringing only two shirts along and thought Hell no am I only bringing two shirts! Plot twist: I wear the same grey t shirt or blue t shirt every other day. I have two black tank tops I have used once and two long sleeve shirts that remain untouched in my bag. If I could go back, I would pack these two shirts and one long sleeve, maybe. No one cares if you re wear a shirt. In fact, I don’t think anyone has even noticed.
This, of course, depends on where you’re going. If it includes anywhere with a temperature above 30C/85F, this applies to you. I brought along protein bars, medicines (read the back: do not store above 25C), and peanut butter. The protein bars didn’t last more than a day, the medicine is basically useless now, and the peanut butter turned liquid in my tent, leaked, and attracted ants. I didn’t even think about the whole melting thing until it was too late.
Bring a quick dry travel towel.
Leave behind your fluffy, bulky towel. My quick dry towel has been a godsend. It dries within an hour, which is great for when you take a shower in the morning before quickly checking out of your hostel. Plus, it saves you a lot of room.
Bring along some travel washing liquid.
This has been great for when I run out of clean undies but don’t have time/enough other washing to do a full load. I just squeeze a bit into a basin of water and do a quick hand wash. Perfecto!
Leave your expensive sunglasses at home.
I’ve already gone through two pair of sunnies on the road and know tons of folks who have lost Ray Bans along the way. Just don’t bother with it, it’s not worth the risk.
My backpack came with a detachable day pack, but bringing along any sort of smaller backpack is great. I was able to leave my large pack with my friend in London while I did shorter trips during the weeks and weekends. It’s great to be able to walk around without the heavy burden of your whole pack!
Listen to your mum: bring a jacket.
Even when you’re going to Spain and its in a heat wave. I went without a hoodie or jacket for about two days before I had to buy one. I wear it nearly every day. Even if you’re never cold, BRING THE DAMN HOODIE.
I have the app Timehop on my phone, and today it notified me that exactly one year ago today, I left the comfort of America for adventure in Australia. As I think back to the person that I was then and compare her to who I am now, I wonder how much I have changed. As I return to the routine monotony that was my life before traveling the world, am I changed?
Deciding to leave my home took a great deal of courage, but I had just done it six months before when I moved rather spontaneously to Washington DC. I think my experience in DC served as a trial run. I put complete faith in myself and headed down to start a life with just $800 to my name. And I flourished. Australia for me was a more dramatic next step in a test of my spirit.
I always knew that I wanted to study abroad. I made the decision to go to Australia my freshman year of college, so I had that idea in mind for a long time before I departed. I did a decent amount of research leading up to my trip, finding out about how to go about getting a job internationally. But when I actually booked my flight and was enrolled at University of Sydney, it became real. Tangible.
When I stepped on the plane in LAX, I was very naïve. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had been living in a bubble that is America and Western culture and I knew very little about the world. I was excited for a life of lounging in the sun, punctuated by periods of surfing and drinking. I didn’t yet know the rush of living on the road, of seizing every opportunity as it came for the sake of the story.
It was hard for me to conceptualize actually being in Australia. In my mind, Australia was a place on a map. It was a distant land that I could not actually imagine myself standing in. When I got off the plane, I felt very disoriented. The beautiful beaches and landmarks that formed Australia in my mind were replaced with the reality of a gloomy, hot, loud city. There were strange signs and everything was on the wrong side of the road.
It took time, but I acclimated to Australian life. I found a job; I navigated the city; I saw sights. I surfed for the first time and second time and third time. I thrived, again. I immersed myself in the Australia that you don’t see in a travel brochure. And then I began to explore more. I went to New Zealand and then left Australia with a backpack and spent a month tramping through Europe. I met people who changed my life, despite only being in it for less than twenty-four hours. I learned that a sunrise and a sunset in two completely different places could fill my heart in a way that I had never experienced before.
People may call it the “travel bug,” but I have been traveling since I was 6 months old. Some may call it “wanderlust,” but even that magical word doesn’t cover it. This was different. I fell head over heels in love with the world.
One year later, I have returned to the life I lived before stepping on that plane in LAX. But I have a completely new perspective. The world seems big and distant, but now I can picture myself standing in it. I look forward each day to a new horizon. I know how true love feels, and it is beautiful.