When it comes to planning a working holiday trip to Australia, applying for your visa is the easy part. Wrapping your head around everything else that comes with moving halfway around the world? That can be overwhelming.
Before I made my big move to Australia at the end of this past January, I was working my way through a whole lot of questions. Which city would I move to? What was my cheapest housing option? Where would I work? Did I really have enough money?
Looking back on those weeks of planning four months later, I realize that I was looking for too many answers. While my research paid off in a lot of ways, some of my efforts turned out to be a complete waste of time. The truth is that you won’t know everything before you go — in fact, there’s a lot that you won’t be able to figure out until you’ve arrived. And that’s okay! Here’s what you really need to know before you go — and what you should stop worrying about (at least for now!).
1. Plan to arrive with some savings.
It’s no secret that Australia’s expensive. You can expect to pay $25-$35 per night for a bed in a hostel, $15-$20 for a meal at a restaurant (and not much less even at fast-casual joints!) and $8-$12 for a standard drink outside of happy hours. Trust me — it all adds up pretty quickly!
The silver lining here is that once you find work, you’ll be making good money. Minimum wage varies depending on your job, but in general you can count on making at least $20 per hour.
So how much do you need to start? Well, that depends. Do you plan on traveling first or finding work straightaway? How motivated are you to find a job? Will you be cooking your own food or eating out? How much do you party?
Look, I know people who arrived in Australia with some healthy savings and others who had mere hundreds of dollars. Almost no one I know arrived with the $5,000 that visa holders are technically required to have (I’ve never heard of anyone actually having to show proof of these funds). No matter what their circumstances, they all made it work — and you will, too! I’ll just say this: be prepared for the high cost of living, and budget according to both your lifestyle and how high finding work ranks as a priority.
2. Start in a city.
You may have heard that your best bet for saving money in Australia is to find work outside of major cities. It’s certainly the impression I had when I moved to Australia, and as far as I can tell, it’s probably true. It’s not necessarily because the money is better outside of big cities; rather, it’s that when you’re working on a farm, or at a resort, or in a small town, you don’t have nearly so much opportunity to spend money. City living isn’t cheap!
Still, cities are your best place to start.
Whether you intend to stay and find work in a city or not, give yourself at least a week. Take care of logistics like setting up a bank account and cell service; perhaps even more importantly, stay in a hostel and meet people. Even if saving money is your top goal, take some time to settle in and explore. You’ve made it to Australia, so celebrate!
3. Network, network, network.
When I moved to Melbourne, it took me two weeks to find two jobs. I had printed up twenty resumes to hand out at restaurants and bars, but in the end, I used none of them. How? I found both of my waitressing jobs through friends — one whom I’d taught English with in Thailand the year before, and another whom I met at the hostel where I spent my first two weeks.
Networking starts before your move to Australia, and once you arrive, it’s your surest way to find more opportunities — whether for work or for travel.
Don’t know anyone in Australia? You’d be surprised! The main reason I ended up choosing to move to Melbourne in the first place was on the recommendation of friends at home — and for me, home is a small, small town of only a couple thousand people. Once I started talking to people about my move, I couldn’t believe how many had been to Australia or had close connections there. At the very least, I bet you have a friend of a friend. Even the smallest connection can go a long way in a new country.
4. Don’t bother applying for jobs before you arrive.
Seriously. It’s not worth your time.
More than anything else, this is what I wasted too much time and effort on before I flew to Australia. I knew I wanted to save some money before doing a lot of traveling, so I scoured the internet for resorts with employment opportunities listed on their websites. I wrote cover letters and tailored my resumes. I sent follow-up emails. And in the end, it was (mostly) fruitless. While I heard back from one eco-resort (they offered to save my resume though they weren’t hiring), I heard nothing from the others.
Still tempted to send out job applications? I get it — the idea of arriving with a job waiting feels good. It feels secure. But the odds of that happening are slim. If you’re intent on finding work quickly when you arrive, you will! By all means, prepare your resume before you go. Just don’t stress out over finding a job before you’ve landed. Until you’re actually there, you have better things to focus your time and energy on. I promise.
5. Have your phone unlocked before you leave.
When you arrive in Australia, setting up your phone is as easy as buying a SIM card and paying for a monthly plan. The only thing you need to worry about before you go is having your phone unlocked because there, a lot of providers might not be willing to do it for you. If you have iPhone 5 and after with Verizon, you should be good to go (they come unlocked). Otherwise, check with your provider before you go.
6. Pack as light as you can.
This is definitely easier said than done, but it will make your life a whole lot simpler down the road.
In some ways, packing for a year in Australia is particularly challenging. It’s not necessarily one of those trips where you can throw some shorts, tank tops and bathing suits in your pack and be ready to go. You’re likely to find yourself in some pretty diverse travel scenarios, from partying in cities to exploring national parks to, you know, actually working in semi-professional positions. Obviously, different types of travel often call for different types of clothes.
Still, this doesn’t have to be hard. Pack clothes with versatility, layering and coordinating in mind. Pack as few pairs of shoes as you can get away with, and replace books and travel guides with an iPad or Kindle. It’s also best to plan on buying toiletries cheaply when you arrive. You won’t want more than a 50- or 60-liter backpack and a daypack. The upside of packing for Australia? Anything you could possibly need can be be bought easily.
7. …but do consider packing for four seasons.
Fellow Americans, know this: Australia is not all hot sun and forever summer — especially if you’re planning to move to, say, Melbourne. Believe it or not, there’s actually skiing and snowboarding just a few hours outside of the city. Who knew, right?! Some of my friends back home hardly believed me when I tried to explain that Melbourne is hardly the bright, sweltering Australia of our imaginations (at least not for most of the year!).
Luckily, I did enough research before my big move to know to pack some sweaters and jeans for Melbourne. Still, having not anticipated staying in the city for as long as I did, I was definitely lacking appropriate outerwear and boots for the cold wind and rain autumn and winter brought to Melbourne. I wasn’t alone, either — many of the friends I met there had packed almost exclusively for beach bumming weather.
Australia’s a continent of diverse climates. Research your destination before you go. Even if you end up in the tropical Northern Territory, it’s likely you’ll do some traveling around the country. I’d definitely recommend packing at least a few essentials to keep yourself warm — and more than a few if you’re in Melbourne-bound!
8. Don’t plan too much!
You’re going to meet lots of people. You’re going to hear about amazing places you’ve never heard of, and you might even find some once-in-a-lifetime work opportunities you’ve never considered. Be open; be flexible.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t do your research. I’m the type of traveller who loves to research my destinations — relishes it, even! For me, daydreaming trip plans is sometimes half the fun. I like to arrive wherever I’m going with a good idea of what my personal priorities are so as to not end up heartbroken when I hear about amazing places too late. Even so, without fail, on every trip I take some of my favorite travel experiences come from locals, fellow friends and spontaneous discoveries on the road.
Australia is a big country and a year is a long time. Give yourself room to explore it without strict itineraries.
9. Don’t be afraid of going alone.
I’m a big advocate of solo travel. In fact, sometimes I think traveling alone can be the least lonely form of travel. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat down to eat a meal and read a book and ended up with new friends to adventure with. If you’re staying in a hostel, it’s next to impossible not to meet people!
On the other hand, sometimes exploring alone is my favorite way to find new things. You can go wherever you want, whenever you want and linger to your heart’s content without the hassles of keeping a group together and compromising plans. I can’t say I wasn’t a little intimidated the first time I made a solo trip, but the more I do it, the more I love it.
10. Wear sunscreen.
Okay, okay — so technically this isn’t something you have to do before you go. It is, however, something you need to know before you go and get yourself burnt to a crisp your first day out in Australia.
You know that hole in the ozone layer? It’s over the Antarctic near Australia, which means the UV radiation here is intense — much more intense than in most other countries. Australians suffer one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Last summer, I found that it was actually a challenge to find sunscreen below SPF 50.
In general, I’m one of those lucky people who doesn’t burn easily. I suck at wearing sunscreen. On one particular afternoon at the beach early into my trip, I learned the hard way that during summer in Australia, wearing sunscreen (and reapplying it!) is absolutely essential. If you’re the type to get red quickly, save yourself the pain and plan to slather on sunscreen thoroughly and frequently.