2015 in Review: Australia and The Year of the Nomad

2015 was such an incredible year. I spent the entirety of it in Australia, save for a 3-week jaunt to Indonesia. It was a beautiful blend of routine and adventure that saw me settling down anywhere from a few days to a few months at a time, exploring my surroundings and then going on roadtrips and excursions in-between.

I’d been contemplating living a nomadic lifestyle for a few years before I actually pulled the trigger and moved to Australia a year ago. My 5 month “trial run” in Southeast Asia in early 2013 put to rest any question about whether I’d enjoy it or be well-suited for it (it was an off-the-charts YES, just to be clear). But I had very real concerns about how sustainable this way of living was, particularly financially. With student loans that can be neither lowered nor deferred, I knew I’d have to find a way to make money while traveling in Australia.

So I challenged myself to 1). be as frugal as possible, and 2). find a way to put my myriad skills to use to manifest a location independent livelihood.

You guys, I kicked some serious booty in both realms, and I’m too proud of myself to be modest about it. In 2015 I spent an average of US$33.50 per day and now make 100% of my money remotely by working online. I am bat-shit terrified that my work stream will dry up at any second, but I feel more alive and fulfilled with the work I’m doing now than I did at any office job I’ve ever held. Whatever happens, you know I’ll go down swinging.

As for my crazy-low spending (detailed below), I don’t think that it’s sustainable long term. I only paid for about 4 months’ worth of accommodation the whole year thanks to help exchange, house sitting, and rent-free Outback living. As I continue to grow my workload, I need a more stable living situation that allows me to work effectively. Moving around too much or working for room and board leaves less time for those money-making projects.

Working out at the beach in Perth

Money Matters

I can’t make it through this post without addressing the proverbial elephant in the room. I’ve just spent an entire year as a nomad, gallivanting around Australia and Indonesia without holding a stable office job. How on earth did I afford it all?! I swear I haven’t taken to the street corner nor have I resorted to illegal means of making money. My sporadic digital freelance endeavors and casual work in the Outback brought in US$17,883 this year, plus I moved to Australia with about US$10,000 saved.

But mostly, I did what I do best: I was really freaking frugal this year. I spent about US$12,238* in 2015. To put that into sobering perspective, that is a shade less than what I paid just for annual rent on my old Brooklyn apartment (waiiiit a second… doesn’t this sound familiar?). It just blows my mind that all my living and travel expenses this year totaled less than my old NYC rent. I can’t wait to spill my secrets for how I pulled off such low expenditure in a country so notoriously expensive for visitors.

As 2015 was largely the year of Australia, expect to see a generous supply of Australia recap posts in the new year, from highlights to expenditure to who knows what else! (Can you tell I’m more than a little excited to nerd out over the copious stats I’ve compiled from the past year?)

* Note: This number represents what I spent on daily living and travel expenses and excludes student loan payments ($7790), insurance ($974), and business expenses ($653).

January: Sydney / Tasmania

Tasman Peninsula in Tasmania

I kicked off 2015 enjoying a killer view of the New Years Eve Fireworks in Sydney, which set the tone for what would be a truly epic year. The first half of January saw me falling back in love with Sydney with every beach excursion and harbour walk. Then I bounced off to Tasmania for 2 weeks to embark on a little Tassie roadtrip with my Aussie friend Teresa and then hike the 6-day Overland Track. I saw so many beautiful landscapes this month, but mostly it drove home the fact that I’ll always be a beach girl. Give me some white sand, bright blue water, and a hot sunny day, and I’m just the happiest.

East Coast Tasmania

Total Money Spent: US$2155.93

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February: Sydney

Sydney friends

In February, I settled into a two-month stint in Sydney, living on Bondi Beach while doing a help exchange (HelpX) with a sleep coach. My days were a lovely blend of blogging and web design, coupled with beach runs and frolics. I loved having a little family in Bondi comprised of my fellow HelpX-ers who were always down to share a meal, hang on the beach, and stay up late working and gossipping. Ah, the glory days!

Curl Curl Beach Sydney

Total Money Spent: US$478.69

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March: Sydney

Bondi Beach bars

March was a joyful continuation of February’s productive beach bumming lifestyle on Bondi, with excursions to Jervis Bay, the Northern Beaches, and Royal National Park thrown in to quell my wanderlust.

More importantly, it was a time of much-needed self development. With the guidance of my HelpX host (the sleep coach), I got in touch with my hippie side and did some meditation and energy work, practices that both felt good and improved my sleep. We also dove into Enneagram (personality) types during our coaching sessions and I worked hard at minimizing my Type 1 tendencies to judge (both myself and others) and look at everything in black and white, which in turn helped lower my stress levels. I’m sure that all sounds like fluff, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that it changed my life.

Palm beach Sydney

Total Money Spent: US$388.68

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April: Melbourne

HelpX Australia

I could have easily stayed in blissful Bondi indefinitely, but if I remained any longer it would have been even harder to leave this magical place. More importantly, I needed to start making money rather than just break even, which wasn’t realistic if I was committed to working 4 hours a day towards my help exchange.

Anna and I figured a free ticket to Melbourne to help work an expo booth was an ideal way to make our exit from Sydney, so we seized that opportunity with vague plans to head west and get our new digital marketing business off the ground. I spent most of April in Melbourne acting a hot mess and crashing on a friend’s couch in Preston. Days were spent stressing over money and trying to figure out how to remedy my financial situation, while nights were often spent slaying Melbourne’s Tinder lineup.

There were some positive happenings this month too, though: we roadtripped on the Great Ocean Road, spent a day wine tasting and hot springing on the Mornington Peninsula, and got some quality cycling time in.

Mornington Peninsula vineyard
Wine tasting on the Mornington Peninsula

Total Money Spent: US$629.11

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May: Victoria to Western Australia / Queensland

Travel photography on the Great Ocean Road

When the clock struck May, I hopped on a roadtrip from Melbourne to Perth with a trio of German stoners who’d all met in Byron Bay earlier in the year. Aside from the hourly toke sessions, I loved every second of our adventure. We drove down the Great Ocean Road, explored the Grampians, saw a whole lot of nothing while crossing the Nullarbor, and camped on what just might be Australia’s most stunning beach. I would say that I regret not having more time for the roadtrip due to my having to make a flight out of Perth, but that flight kicked off an unforgettable adventure in Queensland that I’m so glad I had the opportunity to enjoy.

Said adventure involved hiking the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island with a group of journalists, a trip coordinated by the Queensland tourism board. Hinchy is crazy-beautiful, from its beaches to its swimming holes to its mountains and forests.

By mid-month, I jetted straight back to the west coast to get my life in order. It was a strange time in my life, and perhaps the first time ever that I’ve had absolutely zero plans on the horizon. I’d have relished it more had I not so desperately needed to start making money. With that in mind, Anna and I finally got to work on our business website while I applied for any job (both office and casual) I felt I was remotely qualified for.

backpacking trip

Total Money Spent: US$1204.27

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June: Western Australia

Southwest Australia roadtrip

For the first week of June, I moved up north to Clarkson for my first-ever house sit (about an hour train ride from the city). For most of my time in Perth, I was either hibernating indoors trying to find work, or taking long walks or bike rides along the coast – so being a ways out of town for a week wasn’t too much of an inconvenience. Once I finally secured a job working in the Outback, I spent my last week of freedom roadtripping Southwest Australia with Anna. Beaches and wine… that about sums up our week in the Southwest.

By mid-June, I had relocated to the Kimberley to work a 10 week contract as a kitchenhand at El Questro. Hooray for making money again!

Rottnest Island - The Basin
Rottnest Island, Perth

Total Money Spent: US$1283.25

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July: Western Australia

Champagne Springs Trail, El Questro

By July, I was well settled into life in the Outback. I was borderline miserable for the 40 hours a week I spent busting my ass in the kitchen, but happy as a clam whenever I was free to enjoy the lovely landscape just outside my door. I was very deliberate in allotting at least one day a week to tackling a hike, which wasn’t too difficult given how spoilt for choice we were at El Questro.

El Questro Gorge
Yay, Mel came to visit me at ELQ!

Total Money Spent: US$455.99

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August: Western Australia

Emma Gorge at El Questro

Toward the end of my stint in the Outback, I was very ready to move on. I felt hopelessly unfulfilled with my work and mentally drained from the verbal abuse of some of my hospitality-pro coworkers. I spent a lot of time on my own because I had no interest in getting drunk every night like most everyone else working there. It probably sounds like I hated it there, but like I said: I was only unhappy for those 40 work hours each week.

I’m very glad I had the opportunity to work such a unique job during my year on the Australia work and holiday visa, and I have no regrets about the 11 weeks I spent at El Questro. I loved having so much extra time to devote to reading, writing, and hiking (it’s amazing how many hours you gain when you strip away all the distractions that come with city life).

El Questro Gorge

Total Money Spent: US$411.81

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September: Western Australia / Northern Territory / Melbourne

Lake Argyle Ord River Gorge hike
Lake Argyle

I could have paid out the ass to fly from Kununurra to Melbourne as soon as I escaped El Questro, but I reasoned it’d be more economical and fun to make my way from Kununurra to Darwin overland in the span of a week and then fly direct to Melbs.

On that note, I spent a couple days camping at Lake Argyle and in Kununurra, then caught the Greyhound bus to Darwin where I saw some crocs and swam in waterfalls – as you do in the Northern Territory.

And then – back to Melbourne! I spent most of the month housesitting in an outer eastern suburb, making the trek into the city every so often but for the most part laying low and getting my life in order (yet again). My original thought was to find casual work in a coffee shop (because HELLO, coffee), but if I learned anything at El Questro it’s that I’m a terrible fit for the hospitality industry. I hate it, I suck at it, why on earth would I want another job in it?

So instead of going after casual jobs or full-time office jobs, I decided to focus on obtaining freelance work. It’s what I had been planning with Anna earlier in the year with our digital marketing business but had conveniently pushed aside for several months, and with a bit of money banked and a few weeks of rent-free housing, I felt secure enough to take the risk. By month’s end, I’d scored my first significant freelance digital marketing gig!

ALSO: let September 2015 be known as the month where Lindsay officially started practicing yoga! It’ll never trump crossfit or rock climbing in my fitness world, but it’s a helluva lot cheaper when you sign up for one of those cheapo intro deals and then just find a new studio when it expires (oh yes, I did that).

Friends in the Outback
El Questro friends

Total Money Spent: US$1207.96

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October: Melbourne

Street art in Fitzroy Melbourne

Come October, I bid adieu to the ‘burbs and relocated to hipster Brunswick for a few weeks, where I found myself in street art and coffee heaven. I was in the absolute perfect neighborhood for frolicking, and believe me when I say I took full advantage of it! Later in the month, I moved up to Reservoir for another house sit and resumed hibernation mode.

October was lovely because of the pleasant spring weather, the cycling, the frolicking, but most of all: because I met App Guy! We drank a lot of coffee together, I made him do more walking than he’s probably done in a really long time, we logged a lot of time around the Yarra.

House sitting in Australia

Total Money Spent: US$1039.44

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November: Melbourne

Varra Valley wine tour

So many things happened this month! I took a sublet in Camberwell and loved the bejesus out of my new digs (RIP 936 Toorak). I went wine tasting and enrolled in a bunch of Melbourne barista courses. I started working on a lucrative freelance project for my old boss back in NYC. And my year on the Australia work and holiday visa officially ended on the 29th when I flew to Bali.

After much deliberation, I decided to come back to Australia in December on the tourist visa. I’m not legally allowed to work on this visa and can only spend 3 months at a time in Australia, but I’m using it as an opportunity to pursue my freelance projects and take myself on a trip abroad every few months.

Melbourne barista course at ABA

Total Money Spent: US$1426.33

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December: Indonesia / Melbourne

Accommodation in Bali
Living it up in Bali

I made my first visa run to Indonesia because flights from Australia to Bali are stupid-cheap (is it any wonder why the island’s been devoured by Aussie tourists?). I was expecting to be somewhat repelled by Bali’s rampant westernization, but I surprised myself with how much I loved the Island of Gods. I treated myself to healthy organic meals and hotel rooms at beautiful resorts and only spent marginally more than my typical budget would have allowed.

My 3 weeks in Indonesia broke down as follows: a week in Ubud, a week roughing it across East Java climbing temples and craters, and a week recuperating and indulging in the Bali beach towns. I’m already banking on one of my obligatory trips overseas next year being Indonesia round 2 because there’s so much more I want to explore there!

And finally, December 18th marked my ecstatic return to Melbourne for the holidays, summer, and a month-long house sit in the desirable neighborhood of Northcote.

Borobudur
Borobudur in Java.

Total Money Spent: US$1356.10

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Happy New Year! Thank you so much for reading Frugal Frolicker, and see you all in 2016!

Check Out These Past Year Reviews:

Lindsay Buckley is the photographer and travel blogger behind Frugal Frolicker. She's a New Yorker currently based in Sydney, Australia, documenting outdoor travel experiences Down Under and beyond. Follow along with Lindsay's travel photography on Facebook and Instagram, and be sure to sign up for the monthly Frugal Frolicker newsletter!

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