Author Archives: Emily Potter

About Emily Potter

Born and raised in Berkeley, California, I graduated from university in 2016, and after working full time for three years, decided to quit my job and begin a working holiday in Australia. I arrived in Melbourne in November 2019, and am still here two years later.

Workin’ 9 to 5

Actually, it’s 6 to 3, with a four o’clock wake up. By this point you might be wondering how one with my spending habits survives two months without any income. Answer: she doesn’t! I really embraced the vacation part of my holiday for the first month I was here, eating almost all of my meals out, buying Christmas decorations galore, not flinching over the $20 cocktails. You know, just the usual, responsible spending habits of a girl on a budget.

I had very casually begun looking into potential job options, starting during my third week here. I updated my resume, put it into Australian format (2 pages!), and googled job search websites. I called recruiters WTT had recommended, and applied to a few jobs here and there online. I spent a day pounding the pavement and handed out my resume to exactly one restaurant. I knew my bank account was only heading in one direction, but I was having too much fun not working. Christmas was approaching, and I knew realistically that I wasn’t going to start looking in earnest until the new year rolled around.

By the time January arrived, things were getting a little desperate. And since it’s me, I wasn’t at the dire stage yet, but was uncomfortable with the shape of my savings account. I had heard through a friend of a friend that the Australian Open was hiring, which I knew from the beginning would be an interesting opportunity, but I hadn’t thought much of it. So I passed my resume along, and next thing I know I’ve got a interview on a Saturday at Melbourne Arena, and by the end of the day, I had the job! On a three-week contract, I would be doing admin work for one of the company’s contracted for the AO20.

For those who don’t know, like me before I started, the Australian Open is equivalent to the US Open, and is the first and most highly attended of the four Grand Slam events, also including the French Open and Wimbledon. Oh, we’re talking about tennis, in case none of that was ringing any bells. The Aus Open is held at Melbourne Park, which includes three arenas and a collection of outdoor courts. The entire venue is transformed into a complete experience, with a kids entertainment area, main stage, countless food and bevy options, in addition to all of the tennis courts and spectator bleachers that are added in. Tennis Australia and the National Tennis Centre operate out of here year-round, so this is really the place to be if you care about tennis, which I don’t.

Since there was a chance I’d be starting work on the Monday after my interview, I raced out to Kmart (which is more like Target than the actual Target is here). As part of the events team, I needed head-to-toe all black, business casual attire, and being on a budget, I stuck to the basics to make five outfits for the week, only splurging on a new pair of Blundstone boots. Turns out, I would go on to work for 23 days straight, so could have bought a few more clothes, and the boots gave me the worst blisters I’ve ever had in my life, but I regret nothing.

The following week was spent on edge because I didn’t know when exactly I’d be starting, so every night I was prepared for it to be the next day. Turns out it was the following Monday, and then we were off and running. I had one week of training before the AO officially started, which wasn’t nearly enough time, but good thing I have the ‘figure it out’ mentality. I learned I would be working in a team of six temporary admins, two of us each in the morning, afternoon, and overnight shifts. We were all in our 20s, all with similar working holiday stories, and had all heard about the job in similar ways. However, because I started one or two days before everyone else, I was saddled with (and gleefully accepted) the most amount of responsibility, information, and workload. ‘Of course she did,’ thought everyone reading this.

It was confirmed in that first week that I would have my shift of choice, 06:00-15:00, so I eased my way from starting at 8 AM for two days, 7 AM for another two, and then 6 AM for the next two and a half weeks. I gave myself a strict 9 PM bedtime, knowing that I had to wake up at 4 AM (which eventually turned into 4:30). I caught the 5 AM train to the city, bought my two dollar 7-Eleven iced coffee, then walked 20 minutes to the venue. This was peak summer, so I got to watch the sun rise over Melbourne Arena, and the early morning rowers on the Yarra River. The work that I did consisted mostly of checking timesheets and payroll, monitoring radios and keys for the venue, and fielding questions from other staff. Ironically, very similar to what I did for the Lair.

During those three weeks I just kept my head down and stuck to my routine. The early mornings didn’t phase me, as long as I didn’t go to bed too late, and when I finished each day, I headed straight home, had dinner, and went to bed. It was exhausting but exhilarating, and even when I didn’t like it, I still loved it. The work itself was pretty mundane, but even being thrown into it with little preparation, I still enjoy the pressure of the events world. I was working with a mix of people, from older Aussies to younger working holiday makers, and slowly got to know everyone I worked with. I don’t care much about tennis, which probably made my job easier. I got to see a few minutes of matches here and there, but for the most part I was at the computer all day, and was ready to get out of there when my shift was over. Which is such a novel concept that you work to live, and when you’re done, you’re done. I realize a lot of that depends on your job and where you are on the ladder, but I’ve certainly noticed a different mentality in the workforce here compared to home.

When those three weeks were up, at the start of February, AO20 was over just as quickly as it had started. The entire venue was broken down, which was shockingly barren, as it is during most of the year. I was lucky enough to have my role extended, first for two weeks, then for another two, and then until April 19. However, with the current state of the world, and what with every event in Melbs being cancelled or postponed, my last day will be on Friday, March 27. This didn’t come as a surprise to me, and I’m still very happy with my working experience in Melbourne. At some point in the next month, I’ll be leaving the city to start my next adventure of finding regional work to complete the 88 required days to be able to apply for a second year here. At least that’s the plan; we’ll see if I’m able to execute that. Stay tuned for more!

Weeks 5 and 6: Holidays in Brunswick

I had an Australian chuckle at me over the phrase ‘the holidays’, because evidently they just say ‘Christmas and New Year’s’. Not the staggering cultural difference that some people enjoy when visiting other countries, but still interesting. And as I finish writing this, the holidays are long gone, but better late than never.

The first day of summer, December 1, came and went, and I knew I wasn’t going to last forever in hostels, so I told myself I would find a room of my own in a house or apartment before Christmas. I knew I could handle spending the holidays in a hostel, I just didn’t want to. I surprised myself by lasting three and a half weeks before I needed an Airbnb, although as I write this, three weeks is nothing. After we left the Airbnb on Thursday, December 12, I booked one week at the YHA Metro, and told myself that by the end of that week, I would find more permanent housing. I haven’t yet experienced any hostel horror stories that you hear about, but the constant unpacking and repacking, using the communal bathrooms and kitchen, and never really having a moment alone is not a lifestyle I can sustain.

I was open to living in pretty much any area of the city and inner suburbs, but focused my search in South Yarra, Richmond, and Brunswick. There was no particular reason for this, other than that’s where the most amount of reasonably priced options seemed to be. All I wanted was my own room, preferably in a house with one to three other people, for anywhere between three and six months. The best resources for house hunting were various Facebook groups, and a website called FlatmateFinder. During the search, it was lucky that I was unemployed, because I spent most of my days on Facebook, refreshing my feed every two minutes for new listings. There isn’t a dearth of housing, but to find something for the time frame, price, and location was tricky. And to be with roommates who were at the very least tolerable, if not better than that, didn’t seem like two much to ask.

In the two weeks befor Christmas, I had about seven viewings, in all of the areas. The worst option was probably the room in the single dad’s filthy apartment, followed closely by the unfurnished room who cancelled on me while I was in the lobby. On a Saturday morning, I went to Brunswick, where I hadn’t been before, to see a house near the train line, about 45 minutes on the tram outside of the city. From the photos online, this was a charming little cottage with a well lit room, and it mostly lived up to that. I won’t say it was the most perfect, exactly-what-I-envisioned house, but it was just what I needed. I took a couple of days to make up my mind, but by that Thursday I had moved in. The room came fully furnished, and I only bought a couple of little things, like a small shelf, rubbish bin (trash can is sooooo American), and mattress topper. I was fully moved in and settled by the end of the weekend. I live with two other ladies in their 30s, and so far everything has worked out pretty darn well. 

Approaching Christmas, we still had four of our core group in Melbourne, so we knew we had to celebrate together.  With projected temperatures of at least 30°C (like 85°F), we knew we wanted to do a traditional Aussie Christmas on the beach, but we decided to make it a whole event. Christmas Eve, the three of us packed a bag and went to TF’s apartment, joined by her roommate HD.  We ordered Chinese takeaway, cracked the goon, and played Jenga and Speak Up (I realize that half of those words don’t mean anything to most of you). We rounded out the evening with some Christmas movies and I fell asleep on the couch. 

In the morning we all got to wake up together, with pancakes and my first Christmas crackers, which was baffling to the table of Europeans I was with. Turns out there’s not crackers inside, but instead useless little prizes (just what I love). By mid day we were ready for the beach, Santa hats and all. We headed to St Kilda with more goon and tinnies, and spent the entire day basking in the sun. Half of the group went home around sun set, and the other half of us stayed for a few more hours. We met up with some of the boys from our Welcome to Travel tour, kicked the soccer ball around, and stayed until we were too cold to stand it. We rounded out the day with some of St. Kilda’s finest Maccas, and I spent another night on the couch.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s was relatively unproductive, but again knew we all wanted to do something for NYE. We were down to three, but added HD to even out the group. I bought myself a new jumpsuit just for the occasion, got all dolled up, and went back to Prahran. We bought tickets to The Cross, a Scottish bar in St. Kilda. With 2/4 being from Scotland, and with me not being that fussed about what we did, I was happy to be there. I was expecting an old-timey, pub-looking joint, which it was not. It was fun vibes, good music, and great people. It wasn’t the best NYE I’ve ever had, but also not the worst, and again, just happy to be with my new friends. 

New Year’s Day itself was very uneventful, just the way I like it. Overall review of my first holidays away from home: no matter where you are, it’s all about the people who you’re with.  Can’t say enough about how happy I am to have made the friends I have here, but missing our Christmas party in Berkeley did make me miss home. Before I left Oregon, my mom put out the advent calendar in November, so I could get a little treat on the days I was home. My parents and I have never really done anything big for the holidays, but still, waking up Christmas morning and opening our presents together made me miss them the most. 

The year has been off to an amazing start, and I can’t wait to see what else is in store for me and my Australian adventure.

Weeks 3 and 4: Time Flies

I’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seats waiting to hear what I’m up to… turns out I’m just as prone to procrastination here as I am at home, even with something I actually want to do. I’ve been stockpiling posts, so even though my writing is a little behind my actual timeline, I’m aiming to catch up.

After my first month, I couldn’t believe I’d been here for that long; time really does fly when you’re having fun! After we returned from our road trip, half of that group stayed in Melbourne, while the others went on their way towards the east coast and elsewhere. After spending every waking (and sleeping) moment with the same people for two weeks, suddenly disbanding was a very startling feeling. Similar to that of leaving the Lair after a summer, obviously on a much smaller scale.

Who remained were five girls: ZB, AS, JS, TF, and me. They’ve each requested their own heartfelt paragraph about how much our frienship means to me, so I’m ignoring them. But seriously, I’m a firm believer that your experience is a result of the people you’re with, and I’ve had nothing but an amazing time with these ladies.

I truly had nothing planned following the first two weeks of travel, so what ensued was a busy, but not terribly productive, few weeks. With bottomless free time, my plan was to explore the city and fill each day with something to do, no matter how insignificant. I’d seen plenty of North Melbourne staying at the YHA, but continued to go to the area in search of the perfect avocado toast.

I moved to Space Hotel with TF, closer to the CBD for one week, starting on Saturday, Nov 30. Two weeks before I left Oregon I joined Orangetheory Fitness, a cult-y, one hour workout class membership gym. I knew they had international locations, so I joined the local studio here at the start of December. With the timing of the classes, the most convenient time for me was the 7:10am class. So with nothing I actually had to do, I chose to get up at 6:30am almost every morning for the next few weeks. It’s really a whole new me over here. Since I was already up, it was easier for me to get out and explore.

Near the CBD, I spent the most amount of time at the Queen Victoria Market, the State Library of Victoria (no, not reading, they just had the most reliable WiFi), and walking the streets between different shops and restaurants. In the north, I walked through Little Italy, Carlton, and Fitzroy, the Berkeley equivalent. To the east and south, Prahran, Richmond, South Yarra, and St. Kilda. All of these areas are within an hour of the CBD via tram or train, and speaking of, the public transportation here is so beyond superior to that of the Bay Area. I’ve been inconvenienced fewer than a handful of times here, and the same cannot be said for BART.

I made plenty of visits to St Kilda for beach time and exploring. I went on day trips to Brighton Beach, Mornington Peninsula, and Williamstown. Lots of walking, lots of sitting in parks, lots of enjoying my time to explore the city. My time during these two weeks was also similar to that of the first two weeks of January and the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, but I’ll cover that later. My goal was to never be bored. I was here for an adventure, so I wanted to see all that I could. Besides, I like filling my day with errands and the mundane, and actually living here.

After a week in the CBD, we decided to try out a different area of the city, so we booked a week at Lord’s Lodge in Prahran. Had this been sophomore year of college, and if I were in the mood to chhhhilllllll outtttt, this might have been a great option. But since I’d been leading an *active lifestyle* and didn’t want to be sedentary for a week, this was not going to work. Also it was slightly filthy. So we promptly cancelled after the first night, and got an AirBnb with ZB for the next five nights, which was exactly what we needed.

By the end of that week, TF found an apartment and abandoned me, meaning my tenure as mum was over. I went back to the YHA Metro for the third week of December, and as my last week in a hostel, I wound up with the best set of roommates I’d had yet. But knowing that I wanted to stay in Melbourne for at least a few months, I began looking at apartments and houses I could join on a short-term basis. Moving and the holidays kept me busy, and still, with nothing really on my schedule, I managed to fill almost every minute.

One of the more exciting days during this time was my first visitor from home! HH came to visit me, coincidentally, as her cruise with BF was docking in Melbs for the day. They generously treated me to a day of touring all around the bay, stopping at the Moonlit Animal Sanctuary, taking the ferry from Sorrento to Geelong, and taking a full lap of the city. I have a few other visitors lined up over the upcoming months, but this first visit couldn’t have had better timing.

After my first month in Australia, I have nothing but wonderful things to say about Melbourne. It still just feels like an extended vacation, and at this point, I’d only been in Australia a week longer than my first time here five years ago. My comfort here can be attributed to a variety of factors. It is alarmingly similar to San Francisco, and yet smaller, cleaner, easier to navigate. I’ve kept friends I made in my first week here, and I’ve met new people along the way.

What has become most apparent to me is that no matter how far you go, you can’t escape your life. You always need to think about where you’re living, what you’re eating, and how you’re paying for it. I tend to overthink and over plan my life, which I enjoy to some extent, but I’ve made an effort to go with the flow more than I might otherwise. I’ve always been happier to spend time by myself than with others, but traveling on my own has made me realize just how alone I can be, and how much I miss the simple comfort of my friends. Watching Alias with T&T, nachos at Raleigh’s, and hanging with ‘the boys’. For the first time in a while, possibly my whole life, I was finally happy with the friends I had and the life I was living, and yet I decided to leave it all 8000 miles behind me. When I find myself missing home, it’s the little things that I miss the most. Oh, and mom & dad…

But these comforts of home are exactly what made me want to leave in the first place. I was too comfortable, and I was afraid I’d be stuck in the same spot forever, so I decided to leave, before everyone else did. Again, I realize what a lucky position I’m in to be able to have this year in Australia, and what a strange concept it may seem to some to abandon all responsibilities, but I couldn’t be happier with the choice I’ve made.

It’s a funny thing, to feel so at home and familiar, and yet so isolated here. I think that’s the confluence of a big city attitude with that of a remote continent, one which I can’t wait to see more of.

Up next: moving to the suburbs, Christmas on the beach, and the Australian Open.

Week 2: Great Ocean Road[trip]

AS, JS, TF, RH, ES, ZB, CB, GW, BR, IE, and me.

With Welcome to Travel ending Sunday night, I just couldn’t bear to part with the friends I’d made the previous week, so 11 of the 22 of us decided to embark on a five-day road trip along the Great Ocean Road, a 243 km stretch of road that runs along the south eastern coast of Oz between Melbourne and Adelaide. With recommendations from WTT and the internet, we were able to map out an itinerary. We loaded up two minivans and spent four nights in four different towns, with some pretty amazing sights along the way.

We all had to relocate from the YHA Metro to the Base Hostel in St Kilda for Monday night. We’d had an exhausting week, and were about to embark on another adventure, so perhaps under different circumstances, we would have been more excited for Monday night’s Boozy Bingo. That didn’t stop us from enjoying a few pitchers of gin and tonics, but still.

Day 1: Tuesday, November 26

After a slight delay in picking up the cars, and a brief bickering about who would be in what car with which bags, we were on the road by half ten. Oddly, but not surprisingly, the two Americans were driving each car, and other than a few mistaken directions, including me driving on the wrong side of the road briefly, it was smooth sailing.

Our first destination was Halls Gap, at the edge of the Grampians National Park, which took about four hours to reach. We dropped our bags at the YHA there, freshened up, and hopped back in the car for our first hike. We meandered our way up the mountain to Mackenzie Falls, a lookout point with waterfalls and a trail. After climbing down to the foot of the falls along the steep staircase, we were then able to enjoy the next couple of hours winding our way along the falls, and further into the park. While I’m not usually the first one to jump at the opportunity to hike, this was absolutely one of my favorite parts of the week.

Back at the cars, the day wasn’t over yet. We made a pit stop at the Wartook Reservoir, on our way to the Balconies and Reeds Lookouts for sunset. The Balconies looks west into the park, looking down on the canopy of trees going on for miles. We took a few (thousand) photos, and then crossed the parking lot to the Reeds, looking east across the same canopy. Despite the wind whipping at us for a bit, we enjoyed the amazing sunset, all of us remarking how happy and lucky we were to be there.

Back at the hostel, closer to 10 PM, we made enough chili to feed a small village, snarfed it down, and promptly went to bed. This hostel was my favorite of the trip, remotely set in beautiful scenery; if ever you find yourself in the middle of Victoria, I recommend staying here.

Observations Day 1: My role as ‘group mum’ has been solidified. Are we surprised? No. While I do often like to be in charge and in control (duh), it’s always nice when someone else takes over. I’m very happy with the group that we have, and am so glad I get to spend another week with them.

Day 2: Wednesday, November 27

Up bright and early for our second hike of the trip, we were off to the Pinnacles. Having driven the entire first day, I got to sit back and relax. This hike was about the same duration as the first, but was more scrambling up and over rocks to reach the top. The view was equally rewarding, although with the timing of the sunset, I still preferred the previous day’s hike. We were able to pop back to the hostel to finish our chili for lunch, and then were on our way towards the coast.

We had a 2.5-3 hour drive down to Thunder Point in Wanrambool. Cue our photo shoot of crashing waves, officially on the Great Ocean Road. It was at this point that RH realized her sunglasses were missing, and thought it possible that they had fallen out along the side of the road during a quick pit stop. So we sent the boys car to the next destination, and us girls headed 30 minutes back the way we came. Using driving distance, a time stamp from a photo, and markers including a hill and trees, we miraculously found the glasses. We should get our own detective series, that’s how impressive it was.

Less than an hour behind the boys, but already well into the afternoon, we met them at the next stop, and proceeded to hop along the coast, driving a few minutes to see each of the following attractions. First was Bay of Islands: rocks, waves, sun glistening. All very lovely. Next up: The Grotto. Beautiful archway formed by crashing waves. Followed by London Bridge (serenaded by Fergie along the way): previously intact ‘bridge’ that had been eroded by wind and water. Fascinating to see what nature can do, but still, it was now just a rock off shore. Finally, The Arch, which is exactly what it sounds like, but far less impressive than the Grotto.

With our patience well exhausted at this point, we were ready to check in to our hostel for the evening in Port Campbell. We had a warm welcome in the form of a preemptive lecture about our large group and behavior, and being too tired to argue, silently rolled our eyes and went upstairs. We had pizza and beer for dinner, and again, promptly to bed.

Observations Day 2: I wouldn’t recommend Port Campbell quite as much as I would the Grampians, and it’s possible that two weeks is too long to spend with some people. It’s also possible that we tried to pack too much in to five days.

Day 3: Thursday, November 28

For those of us who didn’t come prepared with food, we went to one of the only restaurants in town for breakfast, and with nothing else to do in Port Campbell, hit the road. Our first stop was the main attraction of the Great Ocean Road, The 12 Apostles. Which is now more like 7 because the others have been eroded. With rainy weather and some large rock formations, we were back in the cars quickly. On to more adventuring, we drove to Wyelangta to see some waterfalls and do more hiking. When we arrived, it was still a bit wet, and turned out the hike was closed due to the weather. So we were able to check out the falls, which felt very tropical and removed from the beach setting we’d just been in.

After a quick panic of almost running out of gas in the middle of nowhere, we decided to head straight to our next stop, Apollo Bay. We checked in to the YHA there, and then went for a late lunch/early dinner, and then most went back to the hostel. I wanted to make the most of my time, so I wandered around the shops, and then back and forth along the beach. This was another surprise highlight of the week, and I would love to go back to Apollo Bay. A quick stop for a glass of wine, and then back to the hostel for a movie. We had a fun night, and I couldn’t believe we only had one full day to go.

Observations Day 3: I love a good beach town, and would love to come back for a longer visit. It’s just as much fun doing nothing, as long as you’re with friends.

Day 4: Friday, November 29

We spent the morning wandering around the shops some more, and then piled back in the cars and continued along the coast. We stopped at Teddy’s Lookout, a viewpoint over the ocean, which was a nice view but nothing special. A quick drive to Lorne for lunch and shopping, and then on to Aireys Inlet, a picture-perfect lighthouse. Next stop: Chocolaterie, in between Anglesea and Torquay. This was a highly recommended and a worthwhile chocolate factory. We arrived at Bells Beach Backpackers hostel in Torquey around mid afternoon, and were greeted by a similar, yet much friendlier, lecture for the group.

Torquay is known for its surfing, especially since the brands Quicksilver and Rip Curl were started here. We wanted to hit the surf shops, but they were closed when we arrived. To mark the final night of our trip, we had a nice dinner out at Olé Torquay, and then began our pub crawl, ending at ‘The Pub’, the only place in the entire town open after 10pm. I got to share and teach some card games (thank you T & T), and all around had a lovely last night after spending two weeks together.

Observations Day 4: I don’t think I’ll have authentic Mexican food until I’m back in California, and I don’t think I’ll ever be very good at surfing, but would love to live in a surf town. Because I’m a good daughter, I remembered to call home for Thanksgiving on Oregon time.

Day 5: Saturday, November 30

Our final morning of the road trip we got to sleep in, do some more wandering around the town and beach, and then head back to Melbourne through Geelong. The two cars met back at the YHA Metro, and we all went our separate ways. Many were staying at the YHA, for a night or longer. Some had flights to catch, places to be. Two had booked an Airbnb, and I opted to change hostels with TF. While two weeks is a lot of time to spend your undivided attention with the same 11 people, I don’t think I could have asked for a better group to travel with, and am so unbelievably happy to have those memories.

If you’re interested in more photos from the trip, I’ve added them here.

Week 1: Welcome to Travel

I’ve arrived! I mean, as I write this, I’ve been here for over four weeks, but I’m a busy lady, so I’m just getting around to writing about it.

I touched down at Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne at 9:30 AM on Friday, November 15, local time. For those paying attention, I left the United States on Wednesday the 13th, so I lost my Thursday in between the sixteen hour flight and the nineteen hour time difference (I’m a day and a half ahead of you reading this at home). I connected at LAX after a two hour flight down the coast, and then was on my way across the Pacific. I know sixteen hours in the air may sound miserable to some of you (specifically my parents), but it really wasn’t that bad. A couple of movies, a few hours of sleep, some more TV. Too easy.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I booked a week-long tour with Welcome to Travel, a company geared towards preparing those new to Australia for their upcoming travels or working holidays. This tour officially began the Monday morning after I arrived, and included my airport pickup and accommodation for my first three nights, so my arrival process was very smooth. I’d already made brunch plans with my friend CT, pictured above, who was on her last day of vacation with her friends, so I dropped my bags at the YHA Metro hostel and walked the three blocks to the Auction Rooms for a delicious meal. The rest of the day was spent wandering around the North Melbourne suburb by myself, trying to stay awake for as long as I could.

Saturday, November 16, was my first full day in Oz. I met up with others from the tour who had also arrived early, and off we went around the city. We wandered down through the CBD (central business district), and down to the Yarra River. We ended up in the National Gallery of Victoria, one of several free museums in the city. Yes, I was just as surprised as you that I wound up in a museum on day 1. We hadn’t been introduced to the trams yet, so we walked all the way back, and ended the night on the rooftop deck with others from the tour.

Now with more from the group, Sunday was again spent exploring the city. We headed towards Carlton Gardens in search of some greenery, but that wasn’t sufficient, so we started towards the Royal Botanic Gardens. Along the way, we stopped at Federation Square, walking through a Polish festival. We crossed the river to the top of the gardens, and with already enough walking, stopped to sit and relax in the sun on a grassy hillside. This was actually one of the highlights of the week, each of us chatting about why we’re here and really getting to know each other. We continued on to the botanic gardens, taking a lap around the lake in the middle, all of us agreeing that we should come back for a picnic or gondola ride. That has yet to happen. Well into the afternoon, and with everyone tired and hungry, we made our way back towards Fed Square to a nighttime noodle market. Delicious food all around, and our first sunburns! We finished the night, again on the rooftop, excited for the tour to officially start.

The whole gang

First thing Monday morning, 22 of us gathered in the lounge on the roof, for our introductions and welcome from our tour leader Clauds, and co-founder Darryl. They talked us through the itinerary for the week, what to expect during and after the tour, and then helped us set up our SIM cards, allowing us to have an Australian phone number (now seems like a good time to mention that if you need to contact me from the US, it’s best to do it via Facebook, What’sApp, or email). At noon, we began our walking tour of the city. Incidentally, I did more walking in my first three days here than in the entire week following. Our first stop was for lunch at Center Place and Degraves Street, little alleyways packed with cafes and restaurants. We walked towards the Old Treasury Building, back through the CBD, and then Chinatown. Along the way, Clauds shared the history of the city, things to note, such as the Free Tram Zone, and shared that Melbourne had the longest ongoing Chinatown outside of Asia. I was ready to fight her on that, but she explained that because of San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake that *technically* Melbourne’s was older. The afternoon ended with a trip to the bank to set up our Australian accounts for when we would eventually be working. After a pit stop back at the hostel, we all went for dinner at Hop Haus on the river. Some of us ventured over to Arbory Afloat, a picture perfect bar on the river, and then called it an evening.

Tuesday’s focus was food and drink. We started at the Queen Victoria Markets, three blocks from our hostel, which is like a huge farmers market mixed with tourist trinkets. One could spend hours here, and I’ve made a few trips back in the weeks that followed. From there we all headed back to the botanic gardens for an Aboriginal Heritage Walk, where we learned about the significance of the indigenous culture and history, and how it relates to modern-day Australia. I would definitely recommend this for anyone spending time in Melbourne. We then trammed back to the CBD for gelato and chocolate tasting in Royal and Block Arcades, modeled after London’s indoor shopping areas. We stopped off at the renowned street art alleys, the only areas of the city where street art is permitted and encouraged. To top off a very filling day, dinner was dumplings in Chinatown.

Wednesday we hit the road for an overnight trip to Phillip Island. Mount Martha was our first stop, with the most perfect beaches I’ve ever seen. We got to spend a couple of hours there, then packing back in the bus for lunch of fish and chips with a view. From there we went wine tasting, and enjoyed it so much that we all got wine coolers to go. We crossed the bridge to the island, dropped our bags at the YHA, and then headed to dinner. Before eating, we stopped at Cape Woolamai, best know for where the Hemsworth brothers grew up surfing. Yes, those Hemsworths. After dinner, we were off to the main event, the Penguin Parade! Formerly beachside mansions, the western tip of the island has been turned into a sanctuary for penguins. At dusk, you’re able to watch their migration from the sea back to their underground homes. The most interesting part is watching and listening to their call and response migration as they waddle up and over hills to make sure they get back to their own homes. Cute end to a long day.

Thursday we were up bright and early for surfing! I’ve tried it once in Hawaii when I was 10, and once when I was previously in Australia, and I’m just as bad at it now as I was then! But seriously, I’d love to spend a concentrated amount of time, likely on the east coast, actually practicing the sport, but now’s not the time. We went back to the hostel to shower and change, and then went next door to the Ripcurl surf shop for a brief history of surfing, from Hawaii to Australia, and around the world. From there, we headed back inland to the Maru Wildlife Sanctuary, where we got to feed kangaroos and emus. Lots of animals for me! Getting back on the bus, the temperature said 40° C (104° F), but by the time we were back in the city, it had rained and dropped to 20° C, meaning we got to experience Melbourne’s “four seasons in one day”. We arrived back in North Melbourne in the late afternoon, ordered takeout, and called it a night.

Friday fun started with an all-morning meeting with Sander and Clauds reviewing visa and work details, as well as different travel options. This was a lot of information, but was meant to prepare us for our one-on-one meetings the following day. For lunch, we packed our swimsuits and headed down to St. Kilda, the closest beach to the CBD. I was expecting this to be the same as our experience two days earlier, but it was more of a sub-par beach with touristy chains and shopping. This was a bad introduction, as it was a bit cold, and I’ve enjoyed it more since then, but still, I was expecting more from an Australian beach. After wandering around the area, we headed for a BBQ in the park. This was for all previous Welcome to Travelers as well, so we got to meet some new people. I kicked a soccer ball around til it was too dark, and then we stopped for a beer tower on the way back. Culture and fun in one trip!

Saturday was our time to chat individually with a WTT leader about our future plans for Australia. I got to sleep in, pop to the market, and then talk with the other co-founder, Adam, about what I wanted to do. I had a rough itinerary in my head, and it was more solidified with him. At the moment, I’d like to stay in Melbourne to work for at least the next three months. From there, I want to head to the west coast, likely via guided road trip, to Perth and then up north. Everything is up in the air and I’m being uncharacteristically flexible, but at least I have a general idea to work with. The main event of the day was the night’s bar crawl. We were treated to a free drink at four different bars around the city, starting with a pub and ending with a nightclub. Fun end to a fun week!

Sunday was the final day of the tour, but the only event was an afternoon BBQ. We got to hang out and relax, just what we needed after an exhausting week. Clauds gave us a fond farewell, and then we were left to our own devices. Some of us went for dinner in Little Italy, and most were staying at the YHA for that evening, so it wasn’t really goodbye, but it still felt odd to not have a plan for the next day.

The past week on the tour has surpassed my expectations, and then some. The WTT team set us up for success, and I’m pleasantly surprised at how well I got on with everyone. At the end of my first ten days, I feel that I’ve genuinely made some friends, something I was nervous about prior to arrival. I feel prepared to tackle the next year, and while I know that every week won’t be as amazing as this one was, it has been a pretty incredible start to my time in Australia.

What I Packed for Australia

Let’s get something straight. Australia is an absolutely massive country/continent, and saying “here’s everything you need to pack in one bag for every possible scenario” is silly. That being said, it runs warm (like me), and with a little bit of research, you can narrow down what to bring.

I am a notorious over-packer, and that fact that I thought I was bringing only one backpack is a joke. On the one hand, I might be traveling for a year. On the other, I know that you’re really only supposed to pack for two weeks, accounting for laundry. I didn’t do that.

I’m departing for my adventure in November, and for those of you who have never seen a map, that means I’m heading in to the Australian summer. Aussies tend to be ~trendy~, so I tried to balance the idea of packing for a backpacker lifestyle, knowing that I might like options to look nicer. Read on for a list and brief description of everything I brought!

  • Osprey Farpoint 70L backpack – this pack comes in a smaller size, but I opted for the 55L main compartment, with a 15L detachable smaller backpack. This was my only checked bag, and I got mine on EBay because I didn’t like the current color choices available elsewhere.
  • Vera Bradley duffle bag – I added this college relic when I remembered I can’t pack lightly if my life depended on it. It was a necessary addition, and served as my carryon.
  • Large purse – could fit in duffle if I needed it to, but once I checked my bag, I was fine fo carry both bags. Relatively spacious, versatile, can hold my water bottle, which is really the most important criterion. Will likely use this day-to-day.
  • Small purse – little purse off of Amazon, mainly for going out, or if I really only need my wallet and phone.
  • Waterproof bag – shout out to CDT for the red Orbridge water proof bag. My intent is to use this on boat or other water-related adventures.
  • 5 x Shoes – don’t @ me, I know it’s a lot, but at one point I was contemplating bringing seven pairs, so it could be worse. Chacos, Converse, running shoes, Birkenstock’s, nicer sandals.
  • 3 x Dresses – one beach, one to dress up or down, one nicer
  • 3 x Rompers – after watching many a travel vlog, rompers seem to be the versatile item of choice. I plan to use these on evenings out, but could also be dressed down for day wear.
  • 6 x shirts – 4 day/nicer shirts, 2 T-shirts for working out/sleeping. And yes, I have big plans to workout while I’m on holiday.
  • 4 x tanks/blouses – intended for evenings or work, as needed.
  • 1 x long sleeve – a North Face sale item, immediately came in handy on the plane.
  • 4 x jackets – jean jacket, rain coat, lightweight down, warmer quarter-zip
  • 1 x black jeans
  • 2 x leggings – one black, one blue, both Athleta, pockets mandatory.
  • 2 x pants – same Target style, flowy stripes, one green, one navy.
  • 6 x shorts – one jean, two casual, two nicer, one athletic.
  • 7 x bras – two regular, three bralettes, two sports bras.
  • 12 x undies
  • 5 x socks
  • 4 x swimsuits
  • 1 x hat
  • 2 x microfiber towels- one for shower, one for beach
  • Cosmetics – I won’t go in to detail because I’m already tired of how long this list is, but basically this includes everyday essentials, first aid kit, emergency meds, allergy stuff, chapstick, etc. Enough makeup for basic needs, nothing more.
  • Water bottle – 2019 staff gift really coming in clutch.
  • 2 x sunglasses
  • Jewelry- watch, couple pairs of earrings, bracelets
  • 1 book – Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country. I didn’t read it the first time I visited Oz, thought I would give it another try
  • 2 notebooks – because I’ll always have a love for hand-written notes, plus pen set
  • Electronics
    • iPhone and charger
    • iPad and charger
    • extra charger
    • Universal converter/adapter
    • power block and charger
    • knock off gopro and accessoraries (yeah I said it)
    • 2 headphones
  • Other/Miscellaneous
    • tide to go pen
    • flashlight
    • deck of cards x 2
    • assorted plastic bags
    • reusable bag for groceries, etc.
    • 3 locks – for hostels, bag zippers
    • shower caps to cover my shoes

I can’t imagine what I’ve forgotten besides the kitchen sink. I still have some room for additional goodies I pickup, but I’d also like to get rid of some things along the way. I wouldn’t have been able to bring what I did without packing cubes, including a last-minute run to REI for more compression cubes.

I made this list because I like to see what other people pack for their trips. Whether you have a trip of your own planned or just like to read lists, hope you’ve enjoyed!

From Medford to Melbourne

Technically this post should be called Berkeley to Melbourne, but ya know, alliteration. This is all about how I wound up in Australia.

I hatched my master plan in October 2018, when I knew I only had one summer at the Lair left in me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but knew I needed a change. I was already starting to plan a BFFs trip to London, so the travel bug had kicked in. I’d made a (lengthy) list of every destination I may want to go, and most destinations centered around South America, Europe, and Australia. 

The most convenient time for me to leave work would be October through December, so I picked November 1, 2019 as my final day. Knowing that I would start traveling in November, I considered my list of continents. 

To travel through Europe without work for a substantial amount of time meant I’d need a hefty amount of savings, which I knew I wasn’t going to have.  Plus I was going to the UK for 10 days in April, and traveling in peak winter didn’t appeal, so Europe fell to the bottom of my list. I’d still love to do a major trip there, or multiple smaller trips, and I still may at the end of my adventures. 

Originally, I thought 3 months seemed like a good amount of time to travel. If I did 6 weeks in Australia and New Zealand, and 6 weeks in South America, I could come back to the US in February and get on with my life. But squeezing 6+ countries into 6 weeks was going to be cutting it a bit close. Plus if I had nothing tying me to the Bay Area (aside from my friends, obviously), what was the rush? But more traveling meant more money, which is when Australia rose to first place. 

I knew from diving down the YouTube rabbit hole of solo traveling videos that it was fairly easy for Americans to get a working holiday visa in Australia, and with a high cost of living, the pay rate was also high. This type of visa allows you to work along the way, to further your travels: exactly what I wanted to do. 

The next decision was figuring out what city I wanted to start in. I’d been to Sydney, Cairns (pronounced ‘cans’), and the Gold Coast for 3 weeks in 2014 with school, so I was familiar with the some of the east coast. I was also interested in Melbourne and Perth, but with Perth being relatively isolated on the west coast, I decided Melbourne would be a good choice.

After a bit of research, Melbourne seemed to have a more temperate and cooler temperature, a good mix of city with small beach towns, and was often considered the San Francisco to Sydney’s Los Angeles. This sounded like a great fit all around. 

In planning what to do in Melbourne (of which I did relatively little) I discovered the Welcome to Travel tour. Started by two Brits who had previously done their own working holiday, this week-long tour was meant to introduce you to the city, while also preparing you for work and travel. 

On June 28, 2019, I booked my one-way flight from Medford to Melbourne, and two minutes later booked the tour. Once that decision was made, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but at least I was doing something different.

With my flight and first week planned, there were a few more items on my to do list. The visa I needed was a Work and Holiday 462. This allows Americans (along with a handful of other countries), aged 18-30, to travel in Australia for up to 12 months, and work to fund their travels. In order to get a second-year visa (who knows?!), one must complete three months of regional work. For other visa holders (those on the 417 from the UK and parts of Europe), regional work means farm work, which literally means working on a farm. For 462 visa holders, regional work can include either farm work, or hospitality work north of the Tropic of Capricorn. Yes, that does seem a bit random, but I think that’s to encourage travelers to venture north, and because there’s lots of opportunity for work there. So if I do choose to do that, I can either work in a hospitality-based job (of which I’ve had plenty of experience), or I can work on a farm (which I also have some experience doing). But that’s for me to figure out later. The visa was said to take 30-45 days to process, so I applied in late September, and was approved within 24 hours.

I picked up my backpack from eBay, packing cubes from REI, and other bits and bobs along the way. I moved out of my house in Berkeley on a Monday (after my friends threw me the most amazing going away party, thanks to a Potter-themed costume list), and then spent 10 days at my parents house in Oregon. I departed from the Medford International Airport on a Wednesday, connected in LAX, and landed in Melbourne on Friday morning. Since then, I’ve been non-stop on the go, but have been having an absolutely amazing time. I’ll have more about my first couple of weeks here in my next post. Thanks for tuning in!

About: Potter in the Water

I quit my job in November 2019 to travel for an unspecified amount of time to undetermined locations, starting in Melbourne, Australia. Find out where I end up!

The name of this blog originated when I jumped in the pool for a game of inner tube water polo (a wildly competitive game), and my coworkers discovered that Potter and water rhyme quite nicely. They proceeded to chant it at any chance they got.

While I do plan to spend a fair bit of time in the water during my time in Australia, I chose this title to better reflect the fact that I was jumping into uncharted territory, and embarking on a new adventure.

A little about me: my name is Emily, I’m 26 and am from Berkeley, California. I quit my job – the only one I’ve known as a post grad – and decided to travel the world, starting in Melbourne, Australia. Originally, my goal was to travel for three months, spending 6 weeks in Australia and 6 weeks in South America. Then I realized, why limit myself? I have nothing holding me back, no commitments, and if not now, when?

My plan, at the moment, is to start in Melbourne on a working holiday visa. Whether I stay in Melbourne to work, or move on to a different city is undecided, but I’d like to hit Perth and Sydney before I depart. My visa affords me the ability to leave and enter the country as many times as I’d like in a twelve month period, so I will likely visit New Zealand at some point during the year.

I started this blog so that I can look back on it in the years to come, and not depend on hand-written scribbles in my notebook to remember all of my adventures, and because friends and family have asked me to. I’ve read travel blogs and watched loads of travel-related videos in the past few months, and I love all of the different perspectives of destinations around the world, so I thought I’d add my ownI plan to write about my prep for the trip, destinations I visit, and my overall experience. More than anything, I’m using this blog to connect and reconnect with people around the world.

As I mentioned, I decided to quit my job to embark on this adventure. This entire experience, from little planning to lack of financial stability, is very out of my comfort zone. As I spent my final night of the summer staring at the millions of stars in Pinecrest, my second home for the past seven summers, I’m aware of what a profound and privileged position I’m in. I think about my highest highs and my lowest lows, that have all happened under the same sky. I can’t help but doubt myself, but I know this is what I need to do. I’m thankful for everyone who has made my little ‘walkabout’ possible, and in the wise words of Scotty P, I have no ragrets, not even a single letter.