The Australian Adventure
The inspiration for this post comes from countless interactions from old friends and acquaintances here in the States asking me how I have lived this semi-nomadic life since late 2013. My first step and easiest leap to make was moving to Australia on the Work and Holiday visa which gives Americans working rights Down Under for a full year from the date of your arrival. For me the fear of a settled life that most chose after university was much greater than the fear of the unknown.
I knew that from my first visit to the Rockies or Pacific Northwest years earlier, that intense feeling of astonishment of the new stimuli around you. Different plants and animals, the way the sun reflects off of the landscape, the feel of the air; all are so pronounced in a new place. Newness is intoxicating. These stimulations were even greater once in Australia. The novelty of the place: people’s accents, the strange animals. Once off the airplane one recognises the palpable feelings of an exotic land.
My First Foreign Steps
All through the calendar year 2013, I worked to pad my savings for a journey overseas. Where? I had only inklings. I was 24 years old in October of that year and had not yet ventured to any foreign country. Unlike my contemporaries in the Southern U.S., I wanted desperately to travel. And I wanted to do so long term without commitments. There was difficulty in finding any sort of precedent for advice. The travel-blog scene was of some help, but it was not as inundated with information as it is now. I didn’t know anyone who had traveled the same sort of way. The closest thing was friends at the University of Georgia who had partaken in studies abroad in various countries. But I detested the thought of structure to my own travel. Wasn’t the point of exploring foreign places to be open to adventure and seeing where fate would lead? Well, I thought so.
By the end of 2013 I had saved up about $6,000 U.S. dollars which I thought sufficient. The goal was to go somewhere where there was the prospect of work so I could sustain myself after the savings dried. A failed attempt at securing a work permit in the Austrian Alps (despite having an outstanding job offer), led me to book a one-way ticket to phonetically similar Australia. A logical choice since my Dad’s first cousins families all resided Down Under.
Then, boom; I was on an airplane departing to the unfamiliar! There is nothing like flying one-way to somewhere brand new. And that experience doing it for the first time is surreal. Sadly most people (Americans) with the urge to do such a thing never do. Most Americans pre-plan their short vacations in order to squeeze them in during an overly busy working year. There is nothing wrong with that. But the situation and the feeling of freedom leaving everything behind is indescribable. And if you have such an inclination, then Australia is the perfect place to start.
Where to Start?
Minimise your obligations and recurring payments. I’m sure this is similar advice that you find all across the web. I did it because it makes sense. In order to save money and hold on to those savings, eliminate all non-essentials. I sold my car and had no rent lease to break, I let my cell phone bill expire, cancelled my insurance policy (U.S. insurance won’t cover you abroad). You’ll be amazed how easy all that actually is. Recurring payments are modern worries that we have devised in the late modern age and are not all necessary!
In line with minimising recurring payments; I recommend minimising your possessions as well. Becoming a yearly occurrence for me, it is healthy and releasing to sort through and give-away non-essential possessions. Leaving just a few boxes of books, clothes, and miscellaneous items behind is much less responsibility than holding on to a household worth of clutter.
Whilst in the mindset of minimisation, begin to think about some gear to take with you. You will want a large backpack (greater than 60 litres) and not much more. No rolling bags or uncomfortable duffels. You want to stay mobile. I’ll get into the subject of gear in a later post.
The largest paranoia that I encounter is not having enough money. Don’t worry because we all fall for it in so many facets of life. I certainly did and still do. I saved up and lived a stingy life for most of a year. But while having a healthy savings is a benefit, it is not necessary. I wouldn’t encourage it always, but if you are anxious to leave, get yourself a credit card that has an interest free period of a year or more. Also obtain one that has no foreign transaction fees, like the Capital One Venture.
Flying to Australia
The biggest expense will most likely be your flight. It is difficult to fly from the East Coast U.S. to Australia for less than $700, but possible (add west coast). If you want an extended layover that will probably save you some cash, then stay in Honolulu for a day or so. The Australian budget airline Jetstar flies into Honolulu and you can obtain cheap one-way fares to Sydney and Brisbane for occasionally as low as $300 US Dollars. Play around with Skyscanner to give yourself an idea. Remember its all an adventure and layovers longer than 8 hours can give you sufficient time to explore a new place.
As an example search, go here to Skyscanner and search “United States” to “Australia” for good-times sake. You’ll see reasonable fares that are certainly not exorbitant for a flight half-way around the world.
The Aid Credit Cards
I read somewhere in the blogosphere of one young anxious American traveller who had very little saved up and a hefty docket of student loans (one of the biggest deterrents from Americans taking time off after University). She obtained one of those credit cards (an interest free year, no foreign transaction fees, and no annual fee; or don’t get the credit card) and booked a one-way to Australia and the fee for the Work and Holiday Visa. Not a bad idea at all, despite the risk. I’ve done something similar at a different time that I’ll explain in a later post. (She ended the post by saying that she saved more than she thought and paid back much of her loan)
Possibility of Saving Money in Australia
She was motivated and was confident on finding a job once in Australia. All legal jobs in Australia pay a minimum-adjusted wage of about $20 AUD. That rate in U.S. Dollars does fluctuate, and as of now is about $15 USD. Jobs abound in Australia, just like they do in the States, except that the wages are higher. Does that mean that the adjusted cost of living is higher? Yes, of course. However living a frugal life in Australia and enjoying the beaches, prolific natural scenery, gregarious Australians, and exotic plant and animal life, are all free!
It is possible and much easier to save money quite fast living and working in Australia compared to the U.S. From personal experience I did just that by working at a ski resort as a life operator and on a family friend’s farm! I met people from all over the world and Australia. Friends that I’m still in touch with here nearly 3 years later. That alone is worth more than the money I saved.
Australia Work and Holiday Visa
Ok you need to know one important detail. Americans apply for the Work and Holiday Visa (subclass 462), not the Working Holiday (subclass 417) which most Europeans apply for. There are slight differences, the main one being that Americans are ineligible to qualify for a 2nd year working holiday where the holders of subclass 417 can do so. The cost of the application is $420 AUD last I checked. Don’t let that deter you, its worth it for sure (and can be the first thing to put on a no-foreign transaction fee credit card).
If you have all of your paperwork together (same documents you would need on hand applying for a job) and are not a convicted felon, then you will be approved. Do not enter Australia or book you flight without receiving your approval email. Otherwise you will enter on a 90-day tourist visa and will have to leave the country and return to begin your Work and Holiday Visa.
Also don’t use a third party agent. We as Americans tend to like to use a travel agent to book things or package things together. Sometimes this is great for its convenience factor, but in this case it will only cost you more and do nothing else. The agencies will sell you the service saying they will find you a job on arrival as well. Don’t trust them as those jobs are probably shitty. (As a rule of thumb always be skeptical of most things; that’s my mantra at least).
I’ve focused mainly on financial and logistical arguments with logic to break down those constraints laid down by our society. But I encourage the adventure because the value you will receive will be greater than any figure in your bank account. Our notion of value is focused there on the pay check. However the value in lifelong friendships created, the smell of eucalyptus trees in the rain, the fright caused by a low-flying fruit bat, rolling green hills leading to expansive beaches, a country with a red sky melding into red earth, creatures that bounce around, are all beyond a number value.
I travelled there alone with no plan and took chances and followed my feelings and its led me to have had the most unpredictable life since. It all culminated when I the love of my life there in storybook-style. That would not have happened had I not been following my instinct and my heart.
The best advice that I can offer is to be honest with yourself. Ask yourself if you want to experience such freedom of living simply out of your backpack experiencing newness everyday and meeting diverse people from all over the world. If you have such a desire, it will not recede with time but only grow and fester. Follow your curiosity whether through travel or otherwise.