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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.