The six-month recap

Wow. It’s been over six months since I arrived in Australia. That time has flown by and I’ve done and seen so much, and this trip still has so much to offer – not to mention what happens after.

I did mean to write this last week but, you know, life gets in the way. I’m currently lying in bed, suffering from a cold (along with half the hostel) catching up on everything.

I figured that it was time to take a look back at the last six months; the things I’ve done, seen and encountered, what I’ve learnt, the highlights and such. Overall, I can say right now this has been the best decision I could have made and while I probably could have done things better, or smarter, I’ve gotten by just fine (with a little help) and I’m glad with how things have turned out.

So far.

Hostel life and backpackers

As someone who spent four years prior to this trip living alone, moving into hostel life was probably the biggest shock. Suddenly I was sharing a room with six, eight, ten or twelve people every night – and most of these people changed every few days. The constant turnaround of people was hard to get used to, especially when you got on with someone really well.

That’s the life, though. A day or two or three of time together then goodbyes. I’ve seen my fair share of people who got upset over it at first. I’ve spent time in hostels before but never for this long a period.

I’ve settled into a routine now, and I’ll pay extra to be in a smaller room (usually six people) with a private bathroom. Maybe that’s my age showing through but it does make things a little easier.

Backpackers are a different kettle entirely. They’re as diverse as anyone else you might meet anywhere but the biggest thing we all have in common is the place we’ve chosen to visit. That gives you a chance to start a conversation and 90% of backpackers I meet are incredibly social.

That being said, and this isn’t an insult or dig but an observation, a lot of backpackers I’ve met have been very focused on drugs. That’s all well and good but it does stop me from getting too involved in everything going on as it’s not really my scene. They’re all cool people, though, so I’ve found myself in that borderline area. It works well but I have other priorities right now.

The standout moment(s)

Lake McKenzie on Fraser Island

Lake McKenzie on Fraser Island

Oh geez, where do I begin?

Of all the places I’ve been, things I’ve seen and done, the best has to be Fraser Island. That was three days of stunning scenery and jaw-dropping sights, such as Lake McKenzie and the Champagne Pools. A lot of driving and a really good group of people made that one of the best trips I’ve made. The best moment of the whole thing was the view of the stars around midnight each night. We’d head to the beach and, being away from light pollution, were treated to clear nights with stunning views. Even if I’d had a proper camera with the right lens, I still couldn’t have taken a picture to do it justice. I’d love to see that again.

The skydive in Cairns has to be up there, too. Jumping/being thrown out of a plane at 15,000 feet wasn’t exactly something I would say to people was something I wanted to do but when the option came up, I knew I had to. I’m scared of heights as it as but being treated to a sunrise skydive was incredible. I would like to do it again – but I’d be just as scared, I know it!

Help! I'm falling out of a plane!

Help! I’m falling out of a plane!

Other memorable moments include the Australian F1 Grand Prix weekend, Penguin Island over on the West Coast, Magnetic Island, SpotX surf camp and meeting some very good friends who I’m sad to have had to say goodbye to – for now.

Always learning

This trip hasn’t always been plain sailing. Things haven’t gone to plan all the time – such as my Greyhound from Agnes Water to Airlie Beach being cancelled and missing the Whitsundays tour – and that knocked my confidence a little. I felt like I was out of control and when money got a bit tighter I couldn’t find a job.

I’m impressed I managed not to work for five months or so – that’s money management! I had a little freelance money come through but I did need to borrow some to get myself back to Melbourne where there are more jobs and now I’m settled and sorting finances for future plans.

If I could go back and use some of the free time at the start to get a casual job, maybe I would but I wouldn’t have gotten to meet and do all the things I did. It’s a catch 22 and one I don’t regret. Yes, I could probably have been smarter with the money I did have but that’s something to keep ready for the next trip, and I will.

Looking forward

Minus small trips, I’ll be based in Melbourne for the next four-to-six months and working solidly to build some money while I work out my next moves into 2019. What those ideas are, I’m keeping close to my chest right now but they’ll become public soon enough, I’m sure.

Anyone who was hoping I’d be coming home after this year out, brace yourself for disappointment; I’m not planning to come home any time soon.

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The end of the honeymoon period

Vineyards at a Hunter Valley Winery

Vineyards at a Hunter Valley Winery

Since getting back to Melbourne, I’ve not been doing much except job hunting and working. I’m in a better place now than before, but not quite where I’d like to be in an ideal situation. Still, the whole thing is proving to be an eye opener and proved that coming back here was the right move.

What I have learned is that the honeymoon period is over. It’s lasted longer than it probably should have and to go the best part of five months not working is a surprise but, while it’s been stressful at times and brought a couple of dips, I wouldn’t change it.

There’s so much more to see but there’s plenty of time left!

Getting back into work…sort of

So, I have two jobs right now. I started working at my hostel for free accommodation shortly after I got here. It’s not glamorous – just cleaning up, changing beds and such – but it does the job. That’s definitely helped. Since then, I’ve been put on the books so while I still do some of that, I also get paid for doing night shifts in reception a couple nights a week, as well as adhoc work when it comes up. This last week has been my “training” shifts but tonight I start my first full shift, alone.

Interestingly, a lot of the backpackers think I’m too soft for this. Boy, are they in for a surprise. There’s no reason I can’t be nice but strict when they go too far when I’m working. Night times are generally quiet but issues do arise and since I’ll be on alone, managing that and them (when they’re usually drunk) could be interesting.

I also do bar work in between this in a RSL/concert hall. It’s very quiet in the members lounge but the concert hall can be busy. They’re all really cool guys and I enjoy the shifts I do get, so it’s nice to see more people who aren’t backpackers.

I’m still hunting for something more stable but I can get by like this. I’m considering expanding my freelance client list, too.

Winter isn’t that bad

Apparently, it’s REALLY cold in Melbourne, but coming from a UK winter, it’s not bad at all. The mornings and nights can be chilly but that’s mostly the wind. The days are quite nice, usually hitting around 15 degrees. I remember summers in the UK colder than that!

That said, due to not knowing my money and work situation, I haven’t done much. I haven’t been writing much but setting time aside for this in the future – more on that in a bit – and there are a lot of exhibitions and such I want to see. Hopefully soon I’ll have more fun stories for you. Picture spam is also incoming on Facebook, just an FYI.

Using my free time better

Vineyards at a Hunter Valley Winery

Vineyards at a Hunter Valley Winery

In my low moments, saving money is everything – not that it always worked well! I found myself watching Netflix for hours simply because I could, even though there are plenty of free things to do here.

I had a plan to have written the first draft of my next book before this month even started, but that didn’t happen (I’m about a third of the way through). So, after a lot of thinking, and realising I haven’t been swimming in months, I thought about how I used my time.

The answer was not encouraging. Downtime is great and all but I still have things I want to do. So, I cancelled Netflix and looked at my shifts to set aside some time each day to do some writing, to read a book, take a walk and generally go to things that I’ve been putting off.

I actually took a short trip to Sydney at the beginning of the month to see a friend and go on a wine tasting day around Hunter Valley. Too expensive but it was a nice way to refresh and see exactly what I was here to do; work hard, earn money, go see/do something new. I’m not the biggest wine drinker but I did find more than a few I enjoyed and it was all local to the area. Shame I only had hand luggage to fly back to Melbourne with! More of this to come.

I’ll let you know how this works out. Until then, ciao!

The highs and lows of travelling

Getting back to Melbourne was definitely the right choice. After the failed attempt at farm work, and with nothing else for me in Cairns – other than things that cost money – I wanted to get back to a city with some opportunities.

Sunset in Melbourne's Albert Park

Sunset in Melbourne’s Albert Park

That’s what I did. It’s been a few weeks since I got back, and they haven’t been easy. While it’s silly to assume so, I was thinking, or perhaps hoping, to find a job within a couple of days of arriving back here. What I didn’t take into account was that it’s winter here so while a lot of backpackers leave for warmer areas, the hours vanish too, to an extent.

At this point, I do have a job but it’s not many hours, and that’s an issue. Thankfully, I’m helping out around the hostel I’m in and that’s cutting down what I’m spending on rent each week so it’s not all bad. The problem is, if I want to move into my own room at some point, I need consistent hours so I’m still searching for those. Hopefully they’ll turn up soon because I also need to get back into saving mode for upcoming trips and plans!

Now, these last few weeks have been hard, the hardest of my trip to date – and that’s keeping in mind how I felt in Cairns when I was in limbo for so long.

I’m impatient, we all know this (but better than I was during my younger years) and seeing people with less experience get a job before me was tough. I found myself wandering aimlessly at times, after applying online and at the places I knew and could find, in the hope of finding somewhere I hadn’t given a CV to.

The nights were spent in my room, watching Netflix or ranting to my dorm mates and friends online (thanks guys, you’re all awesome!) and I felt stuck in a rut. There was plenty of advice, but nothing I hadn’t done. I knew it’d work out in time but that’s not helpful in the moment.

20/20 hindsight

Balcony view of south Melbourne

Balcony view of south Melbourne

So, while my situation isn’t perfect yet, it’s a step in the right direction and I’m grateful for that. I did have to start facing the fact that I might have to leave if the situation didn’t change. I knew that’d be a huge mistake and regret.

If I could go back and tell myself what was going to happen, would I change things? Perhaps. Getting a job first might have been a smarter move, or maybe being a bit stricter with my funds before the East Coast trip might have helped. In the end, I’ve been to some awesome places, seen amazing things and met fantastic people so I don’t regret anything. Part of this whole experience is how to deal with the lows as well as the highs.

I could have skipped Perth back then, worked from day one (okay, maybe day two) and then done the trip but even that might not have worked. At this stage, what if isn’t of any use so I’m not dwelling.

What I am dwelling on, however, is what’s next. I’m making plans for later this year and going into 2019. Those will become clear in the coming weeks when I’m a little more stable.

What I’ve learnt so far

A couple of things of the last four months have become crystal clear to me:

  • Money never lasts
  • Experiences are far more valuable than money
  • There’s no such thing as a great hostel kitchen
  • A dorm room where you like everyone is rare
  • Backpackers, generally but not all, don’t know how to clean up after themselves

I’m almost in my thirties and it’s a stark difference between my attitude and outlook on life compared to the majority of backpackers I meet, who are in the 19-23 range. Mostly, they want to drink, smoke and do drugs and that’s it.

Now, whatever floats your boat but consider it’s more expensive to do all three here compared to other places I’ve been, that’s a bit daft. They never stop though, and it’s tiring just watching them go!

I tend to look for quieter hostels if I know I’ll be staying a while. A couple of nights doesn’t bother me and I have met some great people in those short stays but after four months, I’m happy to have a bed that I know is mine.

There’s a lot of Australia left to see but Melbourne is a good base right now, and even though it’s getting colder, I feel more comfortable here than anywhere else I’ve been to, as much as other places have been great. Travelling is really tiring, guys, so giving myself a break from it is probably a good idea.

Forgive the slightly rambling post but its worth putting it down so you don’t think I’ve vanished just yet!

Cairns and the Great Australian Job hunt

So, it’s been a little while and not much really happened, if I’m honest. When I first arrived in Australia, I wasn’t sure if I was going to do the second year of my working holiday visa. I’m still not, honestly, but what I am sure of is I need money, badly.

Just one nice spot as I walked my way through Cairns

Just one nice spot as I walked my way through Cairns

So, when I planned this trip up the east coast, it was after being told that there would be a lot of farm work up this end of the country that would pay and give me the days needed to fulfil the criteria for my second year. Oh, there are farms but not to the extent that I could just walk into a job, which is what I was given the impression of.

Cue two weeks of job hunting – and I mean any kind of job, as I’m that skint – to get me something. This wasn’t a fun two weeks. There are a lot of things to do in the area but with no money, I couldn’t even afford a beer on occasion. This meant a lot of walking around the city with CVs in hand, sitting at the lagoon and a lot of aimless wandering.

It was really frustrating, and while I knew something would come up eventually, it didn’t make me feel better at the time. Thankfully I had some good friends, both in and out of Australia, who helped me stay positive. You guys are legends, and I really appreciate you letting me rant and moan and complain.

I had to borrow of the parents and activate my overdraft from the UK bank, so there was money available to me but if I could go back and tell myself to be a little bit more careful, I would. Some of the money issues were out of my control but even so. The trip has been amazing and I’ve loved it all (aside from this low moment, the worst I’ve felt since those first few hours in Hong Kong where I was suffering from a lack of sleep) but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

My view on the Mango farm near Dimbulah

My view on the Mango farm near Dimbulah

I signed up with a job agency in Cairns and it finally paid off, so I headed to a farm near Dimbulah, pruning mango and avocado trees. The place was nice, a group of eleven stay onsite in pretty nice twin rooms (my roommate graciously let me have the bottom bunk!) with a huge kitchen that ACTUALLY HAS OVENS AND GRILLS! I didn’t have to fry everything for the moment. Its luxury compared to the last three and a half months.

Wow. It’s been that long already. That’s crazy – it feels like only a few weeks since I got here and I’ve seen some major spots of the country…read; cities and popular/obvious spots. There’s so much to see and do, and it’s so massive, that I’m wondering if I’ll see as much as I want to!

I digress, that’s a topic for another time. Here’s the important thing you need to know.

However, it didn’t work out. I won’t go into details because it’s long and boring but basically I’m not cut out for that kind of work. My hand is still incredibly messed up and painful, so I came back to Cairns and fly to Melbourne on Saturday. There’s more chance of getting a job there, I reckon, and I need to work for a while, get into a routine of some sort and start writing properly again.

Side note; I started my next project and that has helped take some weight off me. Bonus.

It’s going to be cold in Melbourne but I’m looking forward to going back. While I’ve liked a lot of places and seeing all these things, Melbourne already feels a little like home so it’ll be great to be back.

The job hunt continues.

The East Coast: Cairns and Skydiving

I’m in Cairns! At last! Five weeks this trip has taken me. I’ve seen some amazing things, met some fantastic people and had a few setbacks but that’s normal, right?

Now, being a grumpy old man, I was thankful not to be in a party hostel. It’s a 30-minute walk into town but it’s a nice walk (when it isn’t raining – those tropical storms are a pain!) and the hostel does regular buses through the day and night.

Cairns Lagoon

Cairns Lagoon

I spent some time exploring, and like some stops along the way, Cairns has a lagoon where you can swim and chill. It’s not a good idea to go in the sea cause, you know, crocodiles. I do not fancy being eaten by those things.

Now, here’s one of the biggest highlights of my trip; the skydive.

Yup, the guy who has a fear of heights is going to jump (or be pushed, however you want to say it) out of a plane. I thought I’d be terrified by this point but I was actually pretty calm.

Then I got a phone call the day before. With some bad weather predicted, they wanted me to go early. That’s cool, I figured I’d get picked up at about 8am. That’s fine.

NOPE. Try 5am!

Never in my life, that I remember, have I woken up at 4am before. Been up from the night before? Sure. That’s happened a fair few times.

Oh well, it did mean a sunrise skydive. How cool would that be? The answer is pretty damn cool!

I’ll admit, quite happily, the nerves started kicking in the moment I woke up. I mean, am I seriously going to fall out of a plane at 15,000 feet? It was a tandem skydive, so I was fairly confident of being safe but still, that’s high!

My instructor was cool, and kept me talking throughout, which helped. Other than distracting me until everyone was in the plane. That meant that we’d be the first one out. Shit. Like, SHIT!

(Apologies to anyone reading this not a fan of such language, but it’s the actual thought that I had at that moment. Authenticity, you know?)

Climbing was bad enough. There are two absolutely terrifying points of this experience. The first is when the door opens and you swing your legs out and under the plane. You have to really tuck them under. I can’t remember why but he did tell me. You can feel the wind trying to pull you out. That in itself is scary.

The worst bit, though? How about those first three seconds you leave the plane. I say leave because I didn’t jump, nor did it feel like a push. You have this thought, like “Holy shit, I’ve fallen out of a plane! What do I do? Crap crap crap!”

Help! I'm falling out of a plane!

Help! I’m falling out of a plane!

After that, you settle into it. You relax. You look around. See the sun rising over the clouds, the patterns of the clouds themselves, the ocean, the rainforest, the ground.

The ground!

Right, let me be clear. If you closed your eyes, you wouldn’t know how fast you’re falling. The amount of air hitting you and the resistance it creates does a good job of making you think you’re almost hovering there, like a big fan is holding you up. Open those eyes and you can tell easier you’re falling.

It was such a thrill, and I was allowed to put us in a spin after the parachute was opened. That was fun! I expected jelly legs after landing but, other than my hair being a tangled mess, I was fine. I’d actually do it again! I know what to expect and it was really cool! Not sure I’d ever get to the point I’d jump out myself but who knows?

A few days later, and I’m due to go scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef. All goes well until the boat SETS OFF and then they find out I had asthma as a kid, over 20 years ago. Without a medical certificate, I can’t do it.

The Great Barrier Reef, as seen from the boat

The Great Barrier Reef, as seen from the boat

So, I’m stuck on a boat for 9 hours. Thankfully I took a book. I got a couple of pictures from the boat but it’s not the same. I was offered snorkelling but you have to stay on the surface and people said they couldn’t see much so I passed.  I’m 99% sure I’d have been fine to do it had I known to get one!

The crew were nice about it, though, so I can’t knock them. The photos of others doing it looked awesome. One day, I’ll come back again and do it.

That was a little disappointing but already my attention is shifting. I’m really poor now and I need a job. Time to get one, ideally farm work to help with the second-year visa.

I’ll do a round-up of the whole trip and my thoughts shortly, once that work has been acquired and I can get a stable routine going for a while.

It’s been one hell of a trip, with a few things still left to do. I’m actually really tired, ha! Until next time, people!