This is in the perspective of a British 28-year-old budget backpacker who came to Melbourne after almost six months solo in Asia. I actually kinda enjoy slumming it but since I have social anxiety and insomnia dorms played havoc with my mental health. I came to Australia feeling INCREDIBLY grateful that a UK passport and having English as a first language would allow me to work here – a Working Holiday Visa is a huge privilege. Nonetheless, here is my honest account of how it really felt to move to a new country to work on the other side of the world.
WHEN I FIRST ARRIVED…
Words from November:
“Melbourne. Things are going to be different this time around. I lived in London but never experienced it – at least, not the London that makes people’s eyes light up when I tell them I lived there for eight years. The most I saw of England’s capital was the four months I had no place to live and dragged my rucksack in and out of work each day from Canada Water to Walthamstow, Brixton to Blackheath. Except I wasn’t really seeing it of course, I was drifting. I was tired. No time for past-life stories now but to sum up I either was badly struggling to afford normal things (and this was of course back in the long stretch of No Holiday years) that the idea of enjoying London was unfathomable or – when I was finally earning a normal wage – I was so fed up I put every penny into saving to get out of there and never go back.
But Melbourne? This is the city I’ve chosen to live and work in, so I really hope things are different this time around. I want to experience it and love it in a way I never managed to in the city I associate with struggle. I want to explore every weekend and hang out with friends I’ve not made yet every evening. I want to know the best places to eat and where to go for a walk when I’m feeling low. I hope that Melbourne could feel, I suppose, a little more like home than London ever did. Even if it’s just for a little while.’
So did I achieve my Melbourne goals listed above? Spoiler alert: NO. Honestly I had no idea what to expect, which is one of the reasons I’m writing this blog post.
Thankfully I made a checklist beforehand and saved links of everything I needed so all the initial admin went pretty smoothly. I went straight to an Optus (for a sim card) and Commonwealth (for a bank card) right after dropping off my backpack at the hostel after an eight-hour flight. For me everything went very smoothly! Awesome.
However applying for jobs, then working full-time while looking for flats, while still living in a noisy hostel was very hard at the beginning.
My job? Long-term travel does often mean leaving career goals behind in favour of short term placements on the road which are probably not going to satisfy your brain. (Although I do know people who’ve found jobs they love, such as nurses.) At 28 watching my friends take promotions back home means reminding myself that silly jobs are about sustaining travel and doesn’t constitute as a failure. (Don’t worry, I absolutely don’t feel like a failure for this decision – it’s the best I ever made.)
I was incredibly lucky and got a full-time job on my first day in Melbourne! I took a job through a temp agency and although I was meant to be on my first placement for three weeks… I ended up staying for the full five months I was in Melbourne! The job was poop, but arriving in a new country where you don’t know anyone and being gifted with great colleagues is a huge stroke of luck. Since my priority was to save money, this immediately means my outlook on these past months is positive. (aka now I can afford a trip to Indonesia woohoo!)
The job was working at a child talent agency… I dealt with the pushy parents over phone and email. Anyone who’s ever had to deal with ‘the public’ knows that humanity is at it’s worse when the species is armed with a phone, a stubborn idea and the privacy of their own home. No thank you. But the worst part was the mundanity of it all. (Thank goodness for coffee amirite?)
OMG MELBOURNE IS SO AMAZING YOU MUST HAVE SPENT EVERY WEEKEND AND EVENING EXPLORING RIGHT?!
The Melbourne I see is different to the one you might know as a traveller or admirer on instagram: there’s no street art or coastlines on my hour-long walk to work, just concrete blocks, and there’s certainly no room in my budget for eating/drinking out although Melbourne is famous for its foodie scene. My highly sporadic stories show brief meetings with others over the 100ish hours a week spent alone. It was exhausting explaining that out of my 40 hours at work, most weeks I spent 0-2 hours with others. I showed followers the view from a balcony where I spent little time and not the windowless room I actually spent all those hours in. The worst part of my time in Melbourne? Loneliness crept in.
FINDING MAGIC IN THE CITY
I took solace in the Botanic Gardens, walks along the Yarra River and the beautiful Melbourne sunsets which were incredible night after night.
These things made me incredible fond of aspects of my Melbourne life. I truly believe if you want to find it, there is real life magic everywhere. Being abroad makes it easier to appreciate these things somehow, and it’s so lovely have ‘new streets’ to explore even if they’re not all particularly photogenic!
SAVING MONEY VS HAVING FUN
(DOWNTIME IS THE HARDEST PART OF LIVING IN A NEW COUNTRY ALONE)
If you’re going to continue travelling after your time abroad like myself, then it’s hard to strike the balance between saving for your next trip while also exploring the city you are living in.
After six months travel, motivating myself to explore a city I worked in was difficult – and mostly due to my budget. People kept recommending free events but they aren’t free once you’ve paid for a tram, and most of these events were after work which immediately made me consider dinner hahaha. Even if I took a dinner from home to save costs… I mean, well, sitting alone in a free comedy event with a packed lunch surely makes that comedy show less funny? (And it just occurred to me that surely someone is not getting paid for these free events omg haa my brain needs to shut up.)
— I’m overcoming this by next time moving somewhere closer to lots of good walks because that’s something I’ll really enjoy. —
That’s not me being negative or pedantic, believe me. I LOVE TO EXPLORE and am fantastic at doing so solo, I just I wanted to save my money for a trip that really counts. Also (and I hate admitting this) I like my own company well enough but I couldn’t help but wish I could have an arm around me during those long weekends at home. So much downtime can be lonely on your own folks, go figure.
I LEARNED A LOT ABOUT HOW WHAT’S IMPORTANT TO ME
AS A SOLO TRAVELLER.
For me a country is NOT the best for solo travel if the widely described best way to see it – in Australia’s case, that’s renting a van/car – canNOT be done on a solo travel budget. I feel less independent when I reasonably can’t use public transport to do certain things (I am very aware tours and backpacker buses exist – just not on my budget) and – again oh gosh I hate to admit this but –
WHEN YOU WANT A RELATIONSHIP FOR PRACTICAL REASONS heheh 😂
– it felt demoralizing seeing friends and couples seeing places I could not get to again and again because they were renting vans. The Aussie dream is NOT guaranteed if you go solo since this way of travel is only possible with a pair/group.
If you don’t have a social anxiety issue be sure to check out facebook grounds, the meetup website and hostel bars etc and you are sure to find awesome people to share costs with. 🙂
Okay, that’s what I want to say… but it’s unfair to pretend this is always the reality – though definitely check them out!
I just chatted to two other solo travellers in Australia that this didn’t happen for (yet). So prepare yourself that you MIGHT go and have a wicked time with friends you meet your first day. If not? Talk about it, live somewhere with lots of things to do locally on public transport (I’m heading to Sydney next for this reason) and don’t be discouraged as you WILL have your moment! Keep your chin up and remember on bad days or lonely days, you will be doing something new and exciting soon enough!
In my first year of travel I had a HUGE learning curve in regards to how I like to travel. My dream country would definitely be best explored by car, but after my WHV? Rather than going and getting frustrated by road trip countries, I will seek out the places which are actually BEST explored by public transport on a solo budget! Because there’s plenty. 😊
GETTING A FLAT
The best decision I made was to get a slightly more expensive room than I could have despite my strict budget. Being in my late 20s, it was good to move into a ‘grown-up’ flat with professionals over some shoddy student dive… though I’ve lived in plenty of those and can deal with it. 😉 This was way nicer than anywhere I ever saw in London, but after six months staying in hostel dorm rooms – well, as an introverted 28 y/o solo traveller with social anxiety AND chronic insomnia, you can imagine how grateful I’ve been for my own space. And a beautiful space too. This hugely improved my day-to-day quality of life and was the best thing I could have done for myself. I’d highly recommend anyone in my position to do the same.
In Melbourne the wages are high enough it’s definitely more than possible to live somewhere great… In fact, you’d probably be a millionaire to live somehwere like this in London so close to the city centre… And that’s not hyperbole. THIS is why they say Melbourne is one of the most livable cities on earth I guess; a very good standard of life is possible, especially if you’re not too worried about saving. If you’re also moving abroad, be sure to check the wages versus rent costs.
I’ve been so lucky! Not only did I meet Gemma and Campbell (a gorgeous Scottish couple who run the travel blog Highlands2hammocks that I’m now travelling to Indonesia with yassss) but also really did have the BEST colleagues.
The Christmas period was hard but other than this I’ve been happy with my social group here since I’ve always favoured a few close friends over a huge net of acquaintances. It’s very unlikely you won’t make friends… Even if you’re an anxious little twerp like me, there’ll be people in the same boat or locals who want to show you their favourite spot.
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE AMAZING DAYS!
In 5 months I travelled to four places 1-3 hours outside of Melbourne. One weekend Gemma, Campbell and I rented a car and went to The Grampions on Saturday and down the Mornington Peninsula on Sunday. I did a long weekend in Lorne and next weekend I am doing a day trip to Yarra Valley with my colleagues. It doesn’t seem like much compared to some people I follow in the travel community but actually, it’s a LOT more than I ever did in a 5 month period in London so HA I’d say that’s a success.
WORKING ABROAD LONG-TERM DOESN’T FEEL LIKE ‘TRAVEL’
Although these 5 months didn’t have the magic of travel to me (possibly because I’ve always lived in Western cities being from England and it’s a sign I need to challenge myself more in 2020!) travel taught me that there is ALWAYS so much to explore in the place you live!
DID MELBOURNE FEEL LIKE HOME?
Nope. When I started travelling, my first ever post was that travel would lead me to one day ‘find home’. But no place you spend so much time alone will ever feel like home, and I truly believe home will be a person and not a place.
My closest place to ‘home’ in Melbourne was my workplace. We had a ‘work family’ of sorts – a really lovely group of women to say ‘good morning’ to and ‘how was your weekend?’ These familiar sayings paired with familiar faces are certainly the thing I will look back on most about Melbourne; not the street art I seldom saw or the expensive foodie scene or the ‘Melbourne vibe’ some people love and I never encountered. Those things mean nothing of Melbourne to me, in fact, other people’s experience of this city is almost unrecognisable to me.
But I will leave something behind here with a heavy heart. And honestly? Having found people to miss means more to me than ticking any amount of activities off on a list.
DESPITE THE UPS AND DOWNS,
DO I CONSIDER THE LAST FIVE MONTHS WORTH IT?
Oh yes. Absolutely. If I could go back and change anything… I wouldn’t! The ups (friends, day trips, sunsets and working abroad) have been very special and every ‘low point’ I have learned and grown from at a healthier speed than I ever did in my home country. It’s harder to stagnate when you’re on the move – and every down is more of an ‘Onwards and Upwards!’
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