Sydney, You Sexy Thing
It’s my fifth day in Sydney and I’ve found a neat work space that’s nestled in a massive, glitzy shopping center five minutes from my hostel. I’ve got a long-sleeved shirt, fleece jacket, and jeans on because it’s gloomy and rainy outside. “Autumn Acoustics” is my current playlist on Spotify. I’m as comfy as can be. I had planned on going to Bondi Beach today, but I’ve got time. So I’m relaxing, reflecting, and running a few errands. Because apparently I have errands to run in Sydney. Also, my legs hurt. I walked nearly 16 miles on Tuesday and Wednesday, so I'm happily resting them.
It already feels like I’ve been in Australia for awhile. The experience reminds me of when I studied abroad in Spain. I became comfortable with my surroundings, discovered my favorite grocery store and shops, walked the same path to and from class every day, and spent afternoons lounging by the river. Australia feels like that. It’s already different from my previous backpacking trips because, well, I technically live here now. So my travel mindset and pace is different than anything I’ve experienced before.
But, here are the basics of my trip so far:
- Flight time: 4.5 hours from Chicago to Vancouver; 15 hours from Vancouver to Sydney (I have a knack for sleeping on planes; I basically fell asleep and woke up in Sydney)
- Location: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
- Expenses: $288.19 so far (76% of that is for accommodation)
- Hostel: Mad Monkey Hostel on Broadway
- Includes free breakfast and wifi. $28USD/night for an 8-bed, co-ed dorm room. In my dorm room are four guys from England, Germany, and France and then two girls from Wales and Finland, ages 18-22.
From the airport, I found the Airport Link Train, took it to Central Station, and then wandered around for 10 minutes looking for my hostel. It’s situated in a great location: the University of Notre Dame’s Sydney campus is a few minutes away, along with major shopping centers and a big park across the street. And today I discovered that the University of Sydney is right next door! It was neat to be on a college campus again.
My first impressions of Sydney: cosmopolitan, sexy, chic, urban, iconic. It is a stunning city. It feels like America but… sexier? There seems to be something going on around every corner, whether it’s an outdoor fitness class or a thriving city market. Australians flit from work to lunch, in their pressed dresses and suits, but still take a moment to take a quick nap on the grass across from the Sydney Opera House. The sidewalks are massive and the city is spread out, rather than condensed into packed grids like New York City. George Street, the main street that runs through the city and to the harbor, is bustling with shiny shopping centers. I have never seen more Lululemon, Lorna Jane, or UGG stores in one city block. Better yet, this is all against the backdrop of a blue sky and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It’s definitely an easy city to get used to.
I’ve spent the last few days exploring and meeting other backpackers at my hostel. From the hostel, it’s 2.3 miles to the Sydney Opera House along George St. The train costs about $14USD to get there and takes 10 minutes, but I decided to walk it so I could get a better feel for the city. I absolutely loved the Circular Quay area! That's where the harbor is: the bridge looms across the ocean on the left and the opera house is on the right side of the harbor's embankment. In between, boats, ferries, and cruise ships line the harbor. There are grassy knolls where you can sit and eat ice cream, journal, bask in the sun, or nap.
A little past the opera house are the Botanical Gardens, which were stunning. The gardens are free to enter, so it was easy to spend a whole afternoon there walking around and taking photos of the harbor. I still want to walk across the bridge, check out Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art, and head to Bondi Beach and Manly Beach. I do plan to climb the bridge, but not until I come back to Sydney from Cairns. I also want to do a day trip to the Blue Mountains. There's still so many things I want to do in this city!
I haven’t met any other Americans on the work / holiday visa, but there sure are a lot of Europeans who take advantage of it. Backpacking in Australia seems to be a “rite of passage” for many young Europeans. I’m also often the oldest out of the group. Lots of other backpackers are 18, 19, or 20 years old. I couldn’t imagine doing this when I was 20 years old - I feel like I was a whole different person five years ago. But it’s also a reminder of how common backpacking is for young people in other countries, like it’s completely normal to take off and explore the world, even if that means quitting your job.
I’ve also quickly realized in my conversations with other backpackers that the whole world is paying attention to the US election. Most Europeans I’ve met have asked me about the election or what I think of Donald Trump. Never before have I been so convinced how critical this election is. I hope I find plenty of Americans to celebrate with on November 8th!
Even after only five days here, I’ve been reminded how transient the backpacking life is. I’ve had great conversations or experiences with some awesome people already, but I can’t recall their names or where they’re from. Or, I wake up the next morning and three people in the dorm room have checked out and moved on to their next destination. There was an American couple last night in my dorm (the first Americans I met!) who were studying abroad in New Zealand and visiting Sydney. I meant to get their FB info, but by morning, they had already gone.
I’m also going to share the inevitable: Australia is expensive. Well, it’s comparable to the United States, but a backpacker budget doesn’t go very far here. I haven’t quite figured out how long my travel savings are going to last me, but if I average $50/day, I can travel for about 4.5 months in Australia without working. That’s the difference between Australia and South East Asia… SEA can easily be done on $25/day, which would mean I could travel for nearly a year on my travel savings. Accommodation is the greatest expense in Australia, with the average hostel costing about $30/night. I plan to be in Melbourne in early January and start looking for work then. It’s definitely surreal to be traveling without any income, but I keep reminding myself that I worked really hard to save plenty of money to do this.
Australia is so expensive that a lot of backpackers buy groceries from Aldi and cook in the hostel kitchen. This is where I wish my cooking skills were significantly better because I can’t do much without looking at a recipe. So I’ve been switching between chicken fried rice, peanut butter and jellies (they never fail me), the occasional salad, and any tasty treats I pass by when I'm walking on George St.
On the plus side, I’ve opened an Australian bank account and applied for a TFN! A TFN is basically the Australian version of a Social Security number. You need a bank account and TFN to get paid while working. I also took my US SIM card out of my iPhone and bought an Australian SIM card for $30/month. That gives me data to use across the country instead of relying on wifi all the time. So I’m like a real Australian now!
As for my current plan... Well, I still don’t have much of a plan. I was going to fly from Sydney to Cairns, but another backpacker told me about doing a Greyhound bus hop on / hop off pass up the Eastern coast to get to Cairns. Once I buy the bus pass, I hop on a bus and can get off at any coastal stops along the way. I can stay in a town for however long I want, exploring and adventuring, and then when I’m ready to head to the next town, I hop on the next bus. So I’ll do this up the entire East coast until I reach Cairns!