Living Abroad in Darwin, Australia
Apologies (again) for the radio silence. It’s been a busy three months! I promise to devote separate posts for all my adventures throughout Southeast Asia — a journey that started in Singapore and eventually led me to the following cities based on recommendations from other travelers I met at the hostels and Airbnbs I stayed in:
Malaysia: Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Cameron Highlands, Penang
Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang, Dalat, Mui Ne
Thailand: Bangkok, Kanchanaburi, Hua Hin, Krabi, Ko Lanta, Phuket
Australia: Perth, Fremantle, Rottnest Island, Darwin
Here’s a look at what I’ve been up to since my last post.
I’m Renting a Flat in Darwin, Australia
After a solid two months of bopping around from city to city and crashing in bunk beds, private rooms in hostels and Airbnbs, I decided to take a break and settle down in a new place. My original plan was to comply with the Australian Working Holiday Visa 462 requirements for applying for a second year visa and do my 88 days worth of tourism/hospitality or farm work in the northern half of the country, so I started at the very top. I remember being at the hostel in Ko Lanta when I stumbled upon the listing for a sweet looking apartment in Stuart Park, just a five-minute drive from Downtown Darwin, and knew this was it. At about $750 USD a month, I’m having an absolute blast sharing the two-bedroom flat with an Irish nurse and exploring Darwin’s foodie scene and nightlife with my new neighbors and friends. If you’re ever in the area on a Wednesday night, don’t miss the Darwin Railway Club’s big band swing night. It’s fabulous, as are the Mindil Markets, Deckchair Cinema, and the Darwin Waterfront Wave Pool.
I’m a Freelance Writer / Theatre Usher / Caterer / Movie Extra
I figured I’d be based in the Northern Territory’s most populated city and there would be heaps of tourism/hospitality work to keep me busy. While this is certainly the case, what I failed to consider was my own limited experience in the these industries when it came to the kinds of work being offered for seasonal/casual positions here. For instance, I’ve never actually worked in a hotel, hostel, or at a front desk, nor have I ever been a waitress or hostess at any point in my career — I have done catering gigs, which, I later learned, is not the same thing. As I continued my job search, I became more and more self conscious about whether or not I could actually pull any of this off.
But I decided to give it a shot anyway, applied to jobs online that would make the cut for my second year visa extension, dropped off resumes at restaurants and hostels around town — it’s old school as hell, but the old face-to-face meet-up is definitely the way to go here in Darwin if you’re looking for work — and eventually secured a trial as a waitress at a popular pub. Let’s just say I learned a lot about how restaurants work from the other side of the table and discovered I desperately need to work on my non-existent beer-pouring-from-a-tap skills. Needless to say, I was more than relieved when I didn’t get the job and have an enormous amount of respect for anyone who does that for a living.
After some soul searching and expert job-hunting advice and assistance from Greyson at The Job Shack — which, for $50 a year gives you access to jobs all around the Northern Territory and connections to similar companies in several cities around Australia — I landed a few casual gigs that will count toward the second year extension. I’ve served drinks at fancy parties in Darwin’s Parliament House and have been a movie extra in the soon-to-be-classic film “Top End Wedding.” (Read: I was paid big bucks to play around in a wave pool for four hours. I love this country). I’m also super grateful to be contributing more to The Points Guy, which keeps me busy with weekly posts and the New Routes post at the end of each month. Of course the most fun and rewarding job I’ve taken on recently is my casual gig as an Usher at the Darwin Entertainment Centre, which gives me access to free theatre and live performances. So far I’ve gotten to see the traveling production of American Idiot (the Green Day musical) and will be working while the Melbourne Comedy Festival and several other popular Australian musicians are in town this month.
I’m Making the Most of My Free Time
There are SO many options and ways to go about this trip and I feel like I change my mind about my plans every five minutes, so I’m confused as ever about where to go from here. After a LOT of soul searching, I decided it wasn’t worth it to try and find yet another full-time job (on top of all the casual work) that would guarantee my second-year visa extension, which may or may not even be allowed because my 31st birthday is in September and interrupts everything. Plus, while I’m doing a ton of casual work right now, it might not be enough to bring me to 88 days by then anyway.
Instead of making myself absolutely crazy and essentially just being stressed out and miserable in Australia instead of being stressed out and miserable in the US, I decided to just stick with the jobs I currently have — freelance writing, ushering at the theatre, doing the occasional catering or movie extra gigs — and allow myself to enjoy the free time I actually have while I'm in Darwin. It’s been great exploring my new city, going to museums, and learning about its fascinating role and history during WWII — I am a tourist after all. I’ve also been cooking a lot, something that helps keeps my spending in check and is finally a thing I have time to mess around with, and have been teaching myself French via the Duolingo app, which lets you play little word games that help you remember your new language. I’m actually at the point where I walk around the supermarket thinking of what the names of fruits and vegetables are in French so I guess it's working. I’ve also gotten certified in First Aid/CPR and obtained my Ochre Card (which means I'm able to work around children here in the NT), RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol), and RSG (Responsible Service of Gambling) certificates so I’m able to work in almost any tourism/hospitality job if it comes up.
In terms of my time in Australia, I am allowed to stay in the country with the Working Holiday Visa until the end of next March, at which point I can still hop over to New Zealand and do the same thing there, traveling and picking up odd jobs as I go, until November 2019. If at that point I still haven’t seen parts of either country, I can still revisit either one as a tourist — I won’t be able to pick up work anymore, but if I’m still freelance writing at that time, it shouldn’t be a problem. Or who knows, I could meet someone and end up living somewhere else entirely. Or I could get sponsored by a major publication here in Australia and end up with a residency visa. The possibilities are endless so I’m just taking it easy and enjoying the ride for the time being. It’s been fun seeing the Top End transform from being insanely humid and full of thunderstorms during the Wet season — like being Florida in August every day! — to a cool, breezy tropical paradise during the Dry season.
Dating is Actually Fun Here
In NYC, there are more women so men are free to be as stupid and inconsiderate as they want because there will always be some other chick to chase. Here in Darwin, it’s the opposite. Rumor is there are as many as 11 men to every woman at certain times of the year, so it’s been fascinating to see what that means for the dating scene. Back home, I was on Tinder for about five minutes before deleting my profile out of sheer disgust — just FYI, “hi” doesn’t mean “send us your best dick pics!” But here, after hearing about the sweet, wonderful men my friends had met through Tinder and the fun dates they’d been on, I decided to give it a shot, made a new account and went shopping for boys on the internet (that’s really what it boils down to, isn’t it?) To my surprise, the men I matched with here have substance, are romantic, and the two I met in real life were really good guys. Who knew?
While most matches eventually took on a more friendly feel, one in particular — a photographer from Paris who is in the middle of his own epic journey around Australia — completely blew me away. Never did I ever imagine myself uttering the words, “See you guys later. I’m going to meet a boy in the park and he wants to read me a poem.” Needless to say, it’s been the most wonderful and romantic few weeks of my life. Ladies, if you want to feel like a princess every day, do yourself a favor and find yourself a French guy.
I’m Homesick but I’m Not Homesick
Sure, I miss my friends and family, but it’s been extremely easy to stay in touch thanks to Facebook, Instagram, and free video or phone calls on WhatsApp and Skype. At the same time, it’s been really interesting to watch US news developing from abroad and hearing what people in other countries think about our current situation and president. I find myself saying “I’m from New York” instead of “I’m from the US” because introductions are easier that way — people seem to love New York and think it’s cool regardless of how they feel about America right now. I guess you could say I miss some things but not others and don’t feel the need to move back anytime soon. That doesn’t mean I won’t visit though — or that you shouldn’t come visit me!
I Finally Got to Meet Quokkas!
Before heading up north to start my three months in Darwin, I spent two weeks in Perth and Fremantle on Australia’s gorgeous West Coast. Conveniently located about an hour from Fremantle by ferry is Rottnest Island, home of the quokka, what is quite possibly the cutest, most ridiculously adorable creature on earth. I mean, come on.
I really enjoyed exploring the artsy city of Fremantle and getting to know its darker side by staying at the YHA Fremantle Prison hostel — how often do you get to tell your parents you’re spending a week in prison? Oddly enough, staying there reminded me of my dorm in college — it wasn’t spooky, there were people constantly going about their business, and the kitchen was enormous and full of folks willing to show (and share) what they were cooking for dinner. Plus, the prison yard had a nice volleyball net and BBQ area. What’s not to love?
Of course, I had the best time staying at a much smaller hostel in East Perth, Wickham’s Backpackers Retreat, where the overall feel was like visiting your friend’s house. I met some great people there from all over the world. We hung out watching movies, playing pool, teaching each other rude things in each other's languages, cooking in the kitchen, and had a great time going out to dance as a group most nights. Even after a week in "prison" I made sure to spend my last night in Perth/Fremantle going out on the town with those guys.
Please note that I paid for all tours/hotels mentioned in this post myself — I just thought they were great enough to mention here in hopes you might enjoy them, too. That said, if you happen to book your next hotel/hostel stay through any of my affiliate links for Airbnb, Agodaor Booking.com I'd be extremely grateful, as the credits will help fund this little adventure.