My Big Australian Adventure
What's the craziest thing you've ever done? Until now, my most impressive answer was zip-line over alligators, something I was able to do a few years ago at a zoological park in Florida. My new answer? I just left my amazing full-time job at an up-and-coming travel website in New York City, am selling/donating anything that won't fit in a backpack, and within two weeks, will be leaving all I've ever known behind so I can travel the world.
It all started this summer when one of my former co-workers spotted an epic mistake fare — JAL was offering round-trip tickets from New York to Singapore for $350 and everyone in the office was grabbing one. After a few minutes, it appeared the airline had recognized the error and was starting to adjust the pricing. In a last-ditch effort to snag something, I picked a few random dates in January of 2018 and held my breath as the confirmation went through. Score!
At the time, I'd just gotten back from my second trip to Australia — coincidentally, both of those trips had also been the result of a deal being spotted at work, so thanks guys! — and was completely enamored by the land down under. On my first trip, I'd visited friends in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne and did a few day trips to the Blue Mountains, Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo and the Great Ocean Road. The second time around, I was determined to visit the Red Centre, and after I scored another $750 round-trip fare in May from NYC, I booked myself a 4-day / 3-night tour from Uluru with Mulgas Adventures. The flight from Sydney to Yulara (the airport closest to Uluru) was about three hours and it was amazing to look out the window and see the landscape changing so drastically beneath us — from cities to mountains to forests to bright orange desert sands. We spent the next few days hiking through some of the most incredible scenery I've ever laid eyes on and our nights gathered around the campfire, sleeping under the stars in Aussie-style swags (glorified sleeping bags with a built-in mattress), and falling asleep to the sound of the dingo howling in the distance. It was heaven.
There's just something about Australia that's always stuck with me. Even when I was little, I remember being obsessed with the first hour of Crocodile Dundee when they're trekking through the Northern Territory wilderness. I grew up idolizing Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter. And don't get me started on that glorious accent, which, along with a good Irish brogue, will always be sexy to me.
Enter into all this the pièce de résistance, the Australian Working Holiday Visa 462, which allows 18-30 year olds from the US to stay in the country for up to a year — instead of the usual three-month period Americans are typically limited to — and have the option to work as they travel. This was something I'd been aware of since I was in college but never had the opportunity, time, or money to take advantage of, and now that I was turning 30, this was my last chance. Having spent my 20s working in the travel industry as a writer and editor, I'd met, interviewed, and edited stories by folks who had done just that, and as I got older, I found myself finding fewer and fewer reasons why I shouldn't just drop everything and go for it.
Perhaps the sweetest part of all is the option to extend my stay for a second year, which would give me even more time to backpack at will around my new favorite country and pick up work whenever I needed to — with one small catch. Under the conditions of the 462 Working Holiday Visa, I'll need to complete three months (or 88 days) of farm or tourism-related work in the Northern Territory or in parts of Queensland or Western Australia located above the Tropic of Capricorn. At first I thought it would be fun to try fruit picking or some sort of farm work for an absolute change of pace, but after reading about all the lovely outdoor creatures you'll likely encounter as you pick cherries or oranges or what have you — namely all the different types of spiders that are the size of your hand — I think a nice, indoor job at a hostel or travel agency would suit me better. I still may try my hand at farm work eventually just for the experience though.
Right now, the idea is to land in Singapore in mid-January, backpack up through Malaysia and Thailand, and take it from there. Ideally, I'd visit more of Southeast Asia in February before heading south, probably to Perth so I can see the quokkas (!!) and head north to Darwin by the end of March so I can get my three months taken care of early on in the game. Technically, I have until September to get this done and apply for the second year visa before I turn 31. My only regret was not realizing this sooner, as I could have had two years in Australia followed by another year in New Zealand, which has a similar Working Holiday Visa program for Americans between the ages of 18-30.
So far, the reactions to my trip announcement have been extremely positive. For the most part, my sister, parents, friends, relatives and colleagues in the travel world think it's really cool. I've gotten a few confused looks at first, but generally they'll lead to comments like, "That's great, do it while you're young!" or "You should call up my auntie in Adelaide or stay with my cousins in Melbourne." It's amazing how wonderful everybody's been and how supportive people — especially those I've never even met but have taken the time to answer all my ridiculous questions posted to various backpacker groups on Facebook — are so willing to offer their tips and advice.
Among the various responses and reactions, I've also been asked the following questions, mostly out of curiosity but also out of concern for my well-being, which I totally understand.
Why are you doing this?
Like almost every other 30-or-so-year-old I've talked to recently, I'm exhausted and starting to wonder why this is the way things have to be. We spend our whole lives working and hopefully, if we live long enough and everything goes well, we get to be off long enough to actually enjoy it at the end. Why shouldn't we travel when we're young, healthy and able to take on the world with boundless energy?
The other reason: I was working myself to the point of bad headaches, mood swings and total exhaustion. One day, after a former editor gave me a speech about how sometimes there just isn't a way out of the cycle and we have to keep plugging along no matter how much we end up burning the candle at both ends, I realized something: There is always a way out. You just have to be brave enough to take it. So I did.
What will you do down there? Do you have a job?
That's the beauty of this whole thing: I get to do whatever I want, wherever I want, whenever I want. Thanks to the Working Holiday Visa, I have the option to work a few hours per day in exchange for free accommodations via sites like WorkAway.info — I can also be an au pair, volunteer at koala sanctuaries, man the desk at a hippie hostel, get to know locals by being guests in their homes thanks to Airbnb — or take care of their homes by house sitting. The possibilities are endless and I can't wait to get down there and get started.
Where will you live?
In a combination of hostels, shared flats (ie. private rooms in locals homes through Airbnb), my own sweet apartment if there's a particular place I choose to stay in longer, or in swanky flats via house sitting. I've also got a handy reserve of emergency hotel points in case family comes to visit or I ever need to treat myself to a night or two in a fancy hotel.
So… you're going to be a hobo?
No, Dad, it's called backpacking. I'm not living on the streets or begging for money in some foreign land. The term "backpacker" seems to apply more to the idea of simplifying your life down to all the necessities you carry with you on your back. Preparing my belongings and getting rid of all the crap in my apartment has made me realize how much stuff I don't need — all the stupid things I've kept over the years, all the clothes I've bought but never even worn, all the piles of books I can donate so others can share in the joy I felt reading them. Paring down my stuff has been great, therapeutic even, though the idea of only having a backpack full of clothes, a small pile of travel books and a few electronics to my name still freaks me out.
Is this all because of what's-his-name?
Yes and no. This is something I've wanted to do since I was 18 so I'm finally going for it. What's-his-name has always been a great friend and go-to for all my ridiculous questions about what it's like to live and work in Australia, plus he did play an instrumental role in getting me to finally pull the trigger. As he once said during one of our chats when I was whining about losing my dream NYC apartment if I did this, "It's only a flat, mate. Go see the world."
Why are you doing all of this now?
Like I said before, I don't think we should have to wait until retirement to get out there and see the world, especially when we're young and able to hike, climb and deal with harsh climates without any major problems now. I've got my health and want to be active as long as possible. Not only that, why should I wait 35 more years to travel long-term, meet people from everywhere and be exactly where I want to be?
While all of that sounds dreamy and poetic, the real answer, of course, is that you can only do the Working Holiday Visa thing between the ages of 18-30 so this is literally my last chance to do any of this. And I've been plotting this adventure for a very long time — all through college when I answered the phones at Home Shopping Network; all through the big, bad, BT bankruptcy; and all through those nights and weekends I spent editing to the point of exhaustion — so I'm not going to turn back now.
When will you be back?
Honestly, I have no idea. If everything works out, I'll be able to stay in Australia until March 2020, at which point, I can hop over to New Zealand and spend up to three months exploring. I'll be too old to do the Working Holiday Visa thing there by that point, unless they decide to up the age limit to 35, so, fingers crossed. I'd probably hang out in Southeast Asia for a while, where the expats roam free thanks to super-cheap everything and strong, dependable WiFi, or maybe head over to Europe and jump back and forth between the UK and the rest of the continent for a while. Whatever happens, I've got enough points and miles lying around to fly back to the states for anything major — there will definitely be more weddings, funerals and babies to visit in my future — or if I ever get homesick and just fancy a visit. I'm also looking forward to settling down (for more than a month) in a certain place and hosting my friends and family, so if you're ever on my side of the world next year, come say hi!
All in all, the process so far has been very confusing but also liberating as hell and I can't wait to get down there and see where life takes me. I look forward to sharing my adventures with you — don't worry, I doubt anything will be as long as this initial post — and hopefully helping others to have their own travel adventures. Wish me luck, I'm going to need it!
Note that I may receive a credit or commission from some of the affiliate links above. I'm extremely grateful to anyone who uses them, as they'll help fund this little adventure.