What’s Next?

*me, at the honey factory*

September is the start is spring down here in Oz, so it’s been beautifully green and lush. So, what’s next? Well, I’m still working at the honey factory. After months of riding my bicycle, which I can’t reiterate enough how much I hated, I finally caved and bought a car. It’s a silver, diesel, 2013 Ford Territory SUV. It was….an investment, but since I’ve been relatively good about my spending, and since I know I’m going to be here for a while longer I thought, why not? My only regret was not holding out for a 4-wheel drive vehicle, but oh well. I’ve only gotten my car stuck twice in the three months I’ve had it.

I moved about twenty minutes outside of Bairnsdale, so having the car became a necessity anyway. I missed the freedom of being able to go where I want, when I want. Of course at the moment I can’t do either of those things. Victoria is still in lockdown, which means I can’t leave the state, and while I have more freedom out here in the regional part as compared to Melbourne, it’s still restricting. I’ve been compiling a list of little adventures, ranging from a couple of hours to a couple of days, so I’ve been able to slowly check some destinations off.

I completed my 88 days of required farm work at the end of July, and applied for my second year work and holiday visa at the start of August. It was approved at the start of September (hooray!), so I’m officially allowed to stay in Australia until November 2021. While the honey factory is not my ideal choice of employment, it’s a job, and I don’t want to give it up until it gets too unbearable. Because there’s nowhere for me to go, I’m fine to keep building my savings up for future travels. Once restrictions ease, then I’ll decide what my next moves are. But that could be in a month, three months, or six months. No one knows.

Last year I had planned to return home to the States in July of this year for a visit, but now I’m hoping I’ll be able to go home in July 2021. I still have plenty of traveling and exploring to do, both in Australia and out, but I also miss my parents, and my friends, and Mexican food, so I will likely go home for a couple of months as soon as I can leave Australia and be allowed to return. But again, I don’t know when that’ll be. It’s daunting when I think about how trapped I am, but I’m trying to enjoy it and soak everything up while I’m here. I’ve had some lowest of the low, and highest of the high moments during the past year, but in my experience, that makes for the most memorable and enjoyable times.

And that’s just it, as November approaches, I’ve been here nearly a year. I turned 27 in October, which so far doesn’t feel much different then 26. I’ve met dozens of new people, and made lifelong friendships. I’ve found employment and housing, and relocated to multiple cities, all without knowing anyone before I got here. I’ve learned life lessons, grown to know more about myself, and given a part of my heart to a new country.

And, after a year, I still can’t do an Australian accent, but there’s plenty of words and phrases I’ve picked up on. I use some more than others, but here’s a few I’ve made a note of.

  • Crack the shits – to get mad
  • Fair dinkum – honestly, that’s the truth
  • Bloody oath – damn straight, you bet
  • Good on ya – good job
  • Wicked – cool
  • Sweet as – really good
  • Full on – intense
  • Absolute stitch up – something/someone funny
  • Flat out – really busy, full steam
  • Far out – I can’t believe it
  • Texter – sharpie
  • Heaps – loads, a lot
  • Chook – chicken
  • Choc a bloc – full, abbreviated to chockers
  • Get stuffed – f*ck off
  • Ta – thanks
  • Dear – expensive
  • Biccy – biscuit, as in chocolate biscuit had with tea, not like a bread biscuit
  • Tea – tea time but also dinner time. No one else seems to find this confusing
  • Cuppa – tea time, in the morning or arvo
  • Smoko – break time, in the morning or arvo
  • Arvo – afternoon
  • Brolly – umbrella
  • Thongs – flip flops
  • Budgy smuggler- men’s speedo
  • Dunny budgie – fly
  • Budgie – bird
  • Dunny – toilet
  • Bin chicken – white ibis birds, which you may think are beautiful and unusual creatures to see wandering about in public, but lose their charm when you see them swarming dumpsters
  • Mozzies – mosquitoes
  • Maccas – McDonald’s
  • No dramas – no worries, no problem
  • Reckon – for sure
  • Barrack for – support, root for (sports team). Don’t ask who someone roots, that’s a different question entirely
  • Servo – gas station
  • Bottle-O – liquor store
  • C*nt – term of endearment, unless it isn’t, possibly the most-used word in Australia

A lot of words are abbreviated, either by adding an ‘o’ or ‘y’ sound to the end. ‘As’ can follow any word to imply that is even more so. Your trash is rubbish and it goes in the bin. You don’t ask how someone’s doing, you ask how they’re going. Unless you want to say that something’s a little off, then you can also say “they’re a bit ‘hey how ya goin’”. The ‘r’ sound is usually turned into more of an ‘ah’ sound (textah instead of texter for marker), or disappears altogether (Melbourne pronounced ‘melbun’ and Cairns pronounced ‘cans’). Some words seem like an American hippie would be saying them, such as wicked and far out, but somehow they sound better here. I find it especially hard to understand the accents of older men. I don’t like to correct people when they mispronounce a word, but I put my foot down about ‘tortilla’ and ‘paella’. I’ve had multiple arguments with both Aussies and people from the UK, adamantly informing them that there is no hard ‘L’ sound in either of those words. Language is fascinating, because we’re all speaking English, but I’ve been in plenty of conversations where I have no idea what’s going on. I mostly nod along in agreement, rather than ask for a recap of the last five minutes.

Maybe in my next year here I’ll get the accent down. Probably not. Honestly, I don’t really notice it anymore from the people I’m around the most. Strangers certainly notice my accent, and either think I’m a reflection of the entire, current United States political climate, and should be gawked at accordingly, or ask me to repeat what I’ve said when I order food from a restaurant. Every single time. And I know Australia isn’t the most crazy cultural environment I could have thrown myself into, being not all that different from home, but it’s still interesting to see what the other side of the world looks like. With one year under my belt, I’m looking forward to year two.

Six Months

I can’t believe it’s only been six months, but in the same beat can’t believe it’s been six whole months. Here’s a little timeline to recap. I left my job at the Lair on November 1, 2019 and left the Bay Area on November 3. I drove to my parents in Oregon and stayed for 10 days, departing for Melbourne on November 13. I arrived on November 15, and here we are on May 15, 2020, six months later.

It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Melbourne. I got to see the city from every angle, drive the Great Ocean Road with amazing friends, and live like a local for five months. I worked at one of the largest events in the country, and found a mini family with Brunswick Lacrosse. That’s right, ya girl is back on that lax train. If you’d asked me in 2018 if I’d like to do anything related to lacrosse again, my answer would have been a resounding no, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, so when I decided I needed a new hobby, I went for an old one. The impetus was that I wanted something to do with my free time, and a way to meet new people, so I found the closest club, and joined at the beginning of February. The club has existed for over twenty years, but the Lady Mavs are only in their second season, so most are new to the sport, which almost makes it more fun. After only a couple of weeks in this country, I realized that one year here just wouldn’t be enough, so I’m hoping to be back for the 2021 season.

I had planned to work for the events company until the end of April, but what with all events being cancelled, I finished work on March 27, and was faced with deciding what to do next. In order to stay for a second year on a working holiday visa, one is required to complete three months, specifically 88 days, of regional specified work. Colloquially known as farm work, this needs to be work directly related to plant or animal cultivation. The lease on my house was through April 21, and while it was appealing to remain in my comfortable bedroom, doing nothing with my days, I decided to kick into gear and find farm work. Under normal circumstances, it can be relatively easy to find, depending on your location, season, and desperate need to work.  But as Corona was just picking up steam, I knew I needed to act quickly. 

Welcome to Travel once again coming in handy, they have weekly emails and a database about what’s on and any work opportunities. The previous week they had a blurb about a workers accommodation in Bairnsdale, about 3 hours east of Melbourne.  This wasn’t a job offer, but it was a hostel in a town with several options that counted as farm work. I shot them an email, booked my train ticket Wednesday, and was on my way Saturday, April 4. I was leaving Brunswick sooner than I had planned, but I also know that I’ll return to Melbourne, one way or the other.  I was sad to leave my housemates, and my friends, and my home for the last five months, but happy to have a new opportunity. 

After buying the largest suitcase Kmart had to offer, I had all of my stuff packed, including borrowed lacrosse stick, and caught the regional train from Flinders Station. Not surprisingly, it was almost completely empty.  The ride took us from the inner to the outer suburbs of Melbourne, and and then through the countryside. Bairnsdale is a small town by anyone’s measure, but is the hub of activity for the area, and has to be driven through to get anywhere around it. The Sonora, CA of East Victoria, if you will. It’s nice and peaceful, rural and quiet. There’s more fresh air and sunshine, at a slower pace. It could be middle America, or middle of Australia, there’s really not much difference. The house is set up as a hostel, with bunk beds in three rooms, with a kitchen, living room, laundry room, and backyard with an amazing view. The house can hold up to twelve, but we’re at six at the moment: two girls, two guys, and one couple. English, Dutch, French, Chilean, and American. Only one of the boys had been in the house for a few months, and the rest of us arrived the same weekend. We were all in the same boat of needing to find work, and only relocating here for that one reason.

I normally take a cavalier approach to job hunting, with the idea that if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen (obnoxiously this has worked very well in the past). This time though, it was literally a race against the clock to see who would make the first move. I had done my research on Sunday of what businesses were around, and which would count towards the 88 days. Monday morning, I went for a walk along the river, with plans to call around in the afternoon. But I had a nagging feeling, so mid-walk I made my first call (because calling is always better than emailing, even if you hate talking on the phone) to the local honey factory. They said they weren’t hiring at the moment, but that I could email over my resume. With the first contact out of the way, I sent a few emails that afternoon, and then spent most of Tuesday following up with the rest. Almost all had the same answer: no, we’re not hiring. This was due to COVID, but also because we’re heading into winter, and there’s not as much available as there might be during the summer.

But despite all of that, I got a response two days later from the honey company, asking me to come for a trial the following Tuesday. I needed work boots, long pants, and a hi-vis shirt. Hello Kmart. I would be working in the production line, from 6am to 6pm. Yes, I sure know how to pick my jobs based on their very convenient hours. It’s a family-run, relatively small production, with all Australians, no other backpackers. The first week was hard. I was tired, every muscle in my back hurt, but I kind of liked it. I like the routine, I like the people, and considering how lucky I am to have a job, I can’t complain. I wake up at 5, am out the door before 5:30, and ride my bike 25 minutes through town. I really don’t think I can emphasize enough my dislike for bicycles. I don’t like to ride them, I don’t like to drive around other people riding them, there’s not one redeeming quality, except when it allows me to avoid walking over an hour to work.

The work is on a production line bottling honey, so you’re either placing bottles on the line, capping, labeling, sealing, or packing them. None of those jobs are terribly strenuous, and certainly don’t have any prerequisites, but when you do them at a quick pace for 12 hours, you certainly feel it. But it’s not the physicality that gets you, it’s the mental game. The task at hand isn’t challenging, and once you’re in the zone, you’re alone with your thoughts. There’s no music, no conversation. Just you and your brain. And boy oh boy is there a lot rattling around in there. Specifically any song that I know any lyrics to, mostly including musicals I watched 1000 times as a kid, early 2000s bops, Christmas tunes, and a smattering of songs from the past decade. And when I’m not singing to myself, I’m planning where I want to travel in the next year, and next ten. How many lists can I make in my head, and then forget about completely by break time? A lot. This is where being an only child helps me out, because I’m used to entertaining myself for hours on end. But I also think I’m starting to lose my marbles. I’ve got a month down, two to go. Depending on what the travel situation is, it’s likely I’ll stay longer. It’s been a humbling experience, because the farm work that backpackers deign to do is the livelihood of many Australians. We do this work because we have to, they do it because it’s their only option.


After six months, I’ve had some time to reflect on my experience so far. Here’s the highlights.

Favorite thing about Australia? The people, the feeling I’ve had while I’ve been here.
Favorite saying? First in, best dressed. Like early bird gets the worm, but better.
What am I most glad I packed? Wet weather clothes including raincoat and Chacos. I don’t need them often, but when I do, it’s a real lifesaver.
What do I wish I packed? My portable speaker.
What could I have left at home? My nicer, going out clothes.
What do I wear the most? The same thing I wear at home, jean shorts and leggings. Favorite book? In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson. I got this book before I first came to Australia in 2014, and just finished it last week, but that’s more of an indication of me than the book. It’s packed with all kinds of information and highlights different aspects of the entire country. 
Favorite movie? The Sapphires. Based on the true story of an aboriginal singing group during the 1960s, staring the not-so-Australian Chris O’Dowd. I’ve loved this movie for a long time, especially because of the soundtrack.
Favorite podcastThe Adam and Symon Show. I know Symon from lacrosse, and if you want to listen to two Australians have some good chats about nothing terribly important, this is for you. But start from the beginning, so you can get the full whack-a-mole experience.
Favorite music – I like lots of music, but none specifically because they’re Australian. The first three I could think of are Vance Joy, Tones and I, and AC/DC.

What have I learned during my six months here? I’m better at going with the flow, having fun, and saying yes more often. I make decisions more quickly, and have learned to go after what I want. You can’t plan your life, but it helps to have a rough idea. I still don’t know what I want to do with my life, but I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time, so I don’t want that feeling to end any time soon. That’s the main reason that amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, I decided to stay here, rather than return home. Australia was a little behind the world curve, so while friends in the Bay Area were just starting to shelter in place, we were only just starting to be affected down here. Practically speaking, I have a job and healthcare coverage here, that I wouldn’t have at home. And while the thought of returning to the US to sit on my parents’ couch wasn’t unappealing, I saw no redeeming benefits of doing so. Over the past few months, I’ve taken the ‘one day at a time’ approach, and while not intentionally doing do, have had a generally positive attitude towards the state of affairs.

I’m heading into the Australian winter, which is shockingly more cold than I anticipated. I don’t know what the next few months are going to look like, but I’m happy where I am for now.

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.