Are you thinking of doing a Working Holiday in Australia? Are you already on your working holiday in Australia? Well, there are plenty of travel shops advising on tours and activities, but where can a backpacker go to learn just how to successfully exist as a backpacker in Australia? There are tours for this purpose like Oz Intro, but most backpackers just learn this stuff the hard way. Many nights are spent in the hostel kitchen retelling stories of awesome adventures and epic fails. Here are some takeaways from those backpacker roundtables so that you can make the most of your time in Australia.
Ask for lots of advice
A backpacker’s biggest resource is other backpackers. There are millions of people who have followed this path before you, landing in Australia, getting set up, finding work, tripping around, collecting their taxback, applying for second visas. There’s pretty much no situation or challenge you can find yourself in as an Australian backpacker that someone else hasn’t already triumphed over or bungled. When you’re on a Greyhound, hanging out in the hostel, or on a walking tour, ask other people about their experiences and listen. Hell, maybe even take notes. Why learn things the hard way when someone else can clue you in on how to succeed?
Do your own research
The flipside to this coin is that there are plenty of times you should also do your own research. This is most important when it comes to Australian law. You have questions about tax file numbers and ABNs, ambulance cover and medicare, green slips and roadworthys, and if a well-intentioned but uninformed backpacker misleads you, the consequences could be severe. A backpacker wrapping up their second year in Australia is full of practical advice and informed opinions, but when it comes to black-and-white matters like immigration, it’s best to also do your research on the government’s website or speak to a qualified professional.
Save more money
Budgeting successfully is one of the keys to happiness in Australia. You’ll meet a few backpackers pacing around a hostel common room, unsure about how they’re going to afford to survive in Australia based on the current balance of their bank account. You’ll hear awesome stories of triumph, of backpackers landing in Sydney with enough money for a week’s accommodation, a jar of peanut butter, and a loaf of bread, who somehow figure it out and overcome the obstacles, but this is a situation you can and should avoid.
First, being “skint” as the British call it, is stressful. Second, backpackers that are in a bind end up in dodgy situations they could have avoided if they had enough money to act as a cushion. A recurring theme in stories about employers underpaying backpackers or farmers exploiting them is that the backpacker didn’t have much money so they felt like they had no choice but to endure being mistreated. Keep enough money in your account so that should you find yourself in a bad situation you can afford to bail.
Besides problems starting because money is running out, another theme in backpackers’ tales of woe is time running out. You’ll have a happier time in Australia if you plan ahead. This is most important when it comes to regional work. 90 days before your visa expires is a bad time to start your 88 days. Plan to do your regional work early so that if something happens (you can’t find work, you get sick or injured, you hate the farm you’re working on) you’ll have enough time to overcome the obstacle. It’s also a good idea to do your regional work even if you’re only a little interested in staying a second year. The world is full of backpackers who would love to go back but didn’t do their 88 days, and now they regret it.
Besides farm work, there are lots of scenarios where it’s important to plan ahead. Don’t rock up to Byron Bay for New Years and think you’ll find a hostel bed; you’ll probably be sleeping at the bus stop. Don’t put your camper van up for sale 5 days before you have to leave the country. Don’t leave Australia the day your visa expires. Planning ahead, having foresight, leaving extra time for the unexpected, will help reduce your stress and enable you to overcome the obstacles that will come your way as you travel around Australia.
It’s very easy to travel around Australia for two years meeting people in hostels, spending 3 days getting to know each other, then checking out and forgetting them. When you meet interesting people and have the opportunity to make deeper friendships, it’s worth the extra investment. You’ll never be lonely in Australia as a backpacker (or, at least you don’t have to be) but getting to know other backpackers on a deeper level opens up all sorts of new opportunities. Maybe you and your new friend at the hostel decide to rent an apartment together and stop sleeping in dorms. Perhaps you meet a group of great people on your Great Barrier Reef tour and you decide to do the west coast together. Keeping in touch with your backpacker friends and nurturing these relationships can lead to all sorts of fun experiences. The memories and friendships you build with these backpackers can bring you happiness that lasts much longer than your days in Australia.