From Backpacker to Permanent Resident: Celebrating My 3 Year Aussieversary

On December 12th, 2014, I arrived in Sydney with my life a freshly blank slate (read: big giant question mark). I’d just quit a job I enjoyed, moved out of an apartment that had been my home for 5 years, sold/stored 95% of my belongings, and booked a one-way ticket to Australia without a plan.

It’s funny because I pride myself on being a very sane and reasonable person – but what rational being would turn their perfectly good life upside-down without the promise of something better? Not only that, but a life that they’d devoted the entirety of their school years preparing for, dreaming of, and going into debt for?

It’s insane, and I’m well aware of this.

And yet, SOMEHOW… in this big ol’ pumpkin-sized head of mine, it made sense. So much sense, in fact, that to do anything else would be, well, wrong.

Sydney Australia

The best way I can explain it is that there seems to be this inner voice (aka gut instinct, or intuition) that steers me towards certain decisions. When I ignore it for too long and try to rationalize instead, it persists and gets even louder.

But over time I’ve learned that my inner voice always knows best, so I might as well listen to it sooner rather than later. With that, I moved to Australia 3 years ago and my life has been magical ever since.

And that’s why I actually celebrated my Aussieversary this year. I’ve experienced and endured so much these past 3 years and am at a point where I look at my life and feel overwhelming gratitude for what it’s become.

sydney new years eve

People constantly ask me in person why I came to Australia and how I’ve managed to stay here, and I’m sure there are plenty of people online who might be curious about my journey as well.

So here’s a look back on my first 3 years in Australia. If there’s anything else you want more clarity on, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom and I’ll reply!

flight to australiaMy ride to Sydney.

Year 1 (2015) in Australia

So off I went to Australia three years ago on a working holiday visa, two giant suitcases in tow, and a bed at Base Backpackers booked (which btw is a really terrible party hostel, and the only hostel I could book using my Jetstar hotel voucher).

I had trips to Queensland and Tasmania lined up during my first two months in the country, and the vague notion that I would start off in Sydney to “get it out of my system” and later end up living in Melbourne (y’know, figuring I should give another Aussie city a try after my year studying abroad in Sydney). Beyond that, I had not a clue what the year would have in store for me. I didn’t have any long term accommodation sorted, nor any job lined up, nor any friends waiting for me Down Under.

And that was very deliberate because I was intent on leaving the year open to all possibilities. How many times in our lives can we honestly say we have no ties or responsibilities? I wanted to see what magic could happen when I wasn’t tied to any plans, people, places, or things – when I had nothing figured out anymore.

Sydney friends
My original Sydney fam!

My first year in Australia was all about following my whims and living carefree. I worked part time for a sleep coach in exchange for room and board and a life at Bondi Beach, became deeply interested in yoga and spirituality, moved on to Melbourne where my ungroundedness manifested in me being… not-so-much a prude (i.e. I may have gone a little overboard Tindering), spontaneously hopped on a road trip from Melbourne to Perth with a few strangers, moved up to the Kimberley for a few months to work my first-ever hospitality job (I was dish bitch and food prep extraordinaire, aka a kitchen hand), returned to Melbourne to house sit and plot my next move, and accidentally fell into SEO freelancing.

I meeeeean… holy! Would I have done ANY of the above during my “old life” in the US? Nope, definitely not.

Travel photography on the Great Ocean Road
Great Ocean Road, 2015.

Through this hot mess of a year, my one certainty was that I wanted to stay in Australia forever. I felt it 11 years ago when I did my year studying abroad at Sydney Uni; I felt it when that inner voice urged me (with increased frequency and volume in the years leading up to my big move) to get myself back to the land Down Under; I felt it every single day during this first year back in Australia.

I can’t really explain why exactly I feel so drawn to Australia, but I don’t think it’s that important. I don’t need to know why – I just need to trust that instinct and honor it.

Mornington bathing boxes
Hanging out on the Mornington Peninsula.

Year 2 (2016) in Australia

With my compass pointed towards Australian permanent residency, I kicked off my second year in the country on the tourist visa after my working holiday visa expired. Not that the obvious needs any explaining, but being a tourist is definitely NOT a direct pathway to residency. It did, however, buy me some time while I figured out a more long term plan to stay here.

Meanwhile I embraced the digital nomad life, loosely basing myself in Sydney and jet setting to other countries on visa runs every 3 months, freelancing while traveling. Being able to live and work anywhere seemed like a dream at first, but all I wanted was to be in Australia – not constantly having to flee the country to comply with the rules of my visa. These trips abroad felt so forced, and made it difficult for me to build any momentum or routine here in Sydney.

I realized, midway through the year, that I actually had one of the skills on Australia’s skilled occupation list, which meant I might be eligible for a skilled independent visa – no sponsorship needed. I’d be able to live and work in Australia indefinitely as a permanent resident, doing whatever the heck I wanted. It would be my golden ticket! (I’d just have to earn it… little did I know just how much effort it would require!).

Sydney travel blog
Back in Sydney in 2016 and reunited with my bestie!

This second year was pretty stressful for me not just because of all the moving around, but because my future was so uncertain. How long would I be able to get away with staying in Australia on the tourist visa doing periodic visa runs? (I lasted 10 months before I got interrogated by Immigration when I returned from the Philippines). When would I be able to quit house sitting and Airbnb-ing and make my home here? Would I be approved for the independent skilled visa? If not, was I willing to get an office job and have some company sponsor me so that I could stay in Australia long term?

Oh, and throw in 6 months’ worth of prepping documents and proving my worth in order to apply for the skilled independent visa. I had to chase down job references from people who barely remembered me, take an English test (TWICE), get fingerprinted and request police checks from two different countries, undergo a medical exam, beg people from back home to dig up old documents and send them to me as soon as humanly possible, submit old tax forms and bank account statements, and fill out an inordinate number of redundant forms. I would literally stop whatever I was doing whenever Immigration contacted me for additional documentation and action their request, just to make the visa application process go as fast as it possibly could.

My god, I accumulated SO MANY gray hairs this year. It was a big ol’ stress party!

house sitting sydney
House sitting in Sydney. I may not look stressed, but I SO was at this time!

Year 3 (2017) in Australia

By the start of my third year in Aussie, I was well over being nomadic and desperately wanted a home. I returned to the country in January on a student visa (at this point, my independent skilled visa grant was at least a few months away) and signed a lease on a 2-bedroom apartment in North Bondi, the place I’d fallen in love with at the very start of my time in Australia. I thought I might miss the freedom from my nomadic years, but I’m still in love with my ‘settled’ life in Bondi. I’m a 5 minute walk from one of the most beautiful beaches in the world – will that ever get old?!

Being settled in Sydney has allowed me the time and space to build relationships, work on my own personal development, and establish health and fitness routines. Turns out I actually need these things in order to be my happiest self! I’ve got my core group of friends in Bondi as well as my adventure buddies that I’ve been going on lots of weekend hikes and camping trips with. I’ve also been attending yoga and pilates reformer classes regularly and feel so much better for it.

I’m still freelancing for work and avoiding the office job life like the bubonic plague. The bulk of my work is SEO, but I’ve been able to start making a decent income off this blog thanks to display ads, and I’ve also completed some photography, web design, and writing gigs this year. I don’t really feel like any of these things is my calling in life, but I am EXTREMELY grateful that all of this work allows me the freedom to set my own schedule and be anywhere in the world.

bondi beach travel blog
With my Bondi babes on my Aussieversary.

Since I started out the year on a student visa, I had to enroll in school – so I chose a really easy marketing certificate course at a college that exists primarily for foreigners like me who are just looking for a visa to stay in Australia and don’t particularly care about earning a degree. It was looking like I’d have to endure about 3 months of school before my new visa came through, which I felt pretty ok about.

WELL. In actuality, it ended up being just over 6 months of school. It wasn’t nearly as terrible as I imagined, but still quite painful at times (as in: Whoa, did the teacher or that classmate really just say that? And is this actually our assignment?). It was absolutely nothing like my Cornell education and at times I felt like my brain cells were just evaporating with every minute spent in that classroom.

My skilled independent visa and permanent residency were finally granted on September 4th and I swear to you, I had to have been the happiest person in Sydney that day. I’ve never felt so relieved in my life! I promptly dropped out of school and enrolled in Medicare – hooray public health care!

bondi beach sunrise
Sunrise at Bondi Beach on my Aussieversary.

Why I’m Celebrating This Aussieversary

I didn’t make a fuss over my first two Aussieversaries. In fact, I’m not even sure if I remembered them – I wasn’t even in Australia for either one.

But this third one – oh yeah, I celebrated. I didn’t throw myself a big party or splurge on anything, but I did decide to wake up in time for sunrise and yoga on the beach and go for an early breakfast with my Bondi babes (bear in mind that I am NOT a morning person, so it was actually a pretty big deal for me to do this).

I celebrated my new permanent residency and the magical life I’ve created for myself these past few years.

I celebrated my home, my friendships, myself.

macquarie pass jump rock
With my adventure babes at Jump Rock.

I didn’t intend for this post to be a thorough chronicle of my Australian visa journey, but it’s been a big part of my 3 years in this country.

In some ways, things are nearly the same as they were 3 years ago. I still have no idea what I’m doing with my life in terms of a career. I am still perpetually single. I’m still paying off my student loans (well, just one of them now!).


I’d like to think that I’m a much better version of myself now than I was when I first arrived in Australia.

I am less critical, more patient, and more present.

I’m learning to trust my intuition without question and let it guide me through life one step at a time, rather than feeling anxious about not having certain things figured out by this point.

bondi beach travel blog

Hitting the reset button on my life is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. It allowed me to purge all the crap that had accumulated in it over the course of 30 years, and rebuild my life with intention from the ground up. Physical belongings, yes, but also crap that had creeped in from various people, environments, and habits. It ALL affects our energy and wellbeing, often in ways we’re unconscious of.

I am now very aware of everything I let into my life. I am also very intentional about leaving lots of space in it, rather than rushing to fill it with things I have to do, people that I don’t care to spend time with, or things that don’t really serve me. I say no to anything that won’t bring me joy, and leave space for things that will.

I feel so much lighter and happier now than I did before I moved to Australia.

bondi beach yoga
I mean WHAT. Who thought I’d ever be into yoga?!

Here’s to another year of chasing freedom in the place that makes me the happiest!

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!

Where in the World is This?

  • Kelsey Cafferky

    This is so amazing and so inspiring! My husband, and kids and I are getting geared up to start this process ourselves. Being too old for the working tourist visa we are starting as we mean to go along with the skilled occupation visa. My husband has a very in demand skill on that list and we have obtained an immigration lawyer to help us navigate the process. Its TOUGH. We are at the very beginning so we have a long slog ahead of us but this post gave me hope that it’ll work out alright in the end! Thanks for sharing your journey!!

    • It is SO tough! Wishing you all the best on your visa journey – hang in there, it’ll all be worth it! :)

  • Reading and learning, reading and learning, only from the best! <3

  • Carleen Hunt

    Hi Lindsay! Thanks for sharing your experience. I lived and worked in Australia for one year on the work and holiday visa but I’m now living back in the states. I’m desperately trying to get back to oz: do you think it’s best to go on a tourist visa and then apply for the skilled occupation visa, or could I just as easily do it from the U.S.? (Using easily as a loose term here, I know nothing about it is easy.)

    • You can definitely apply from outside Australia! I’m not sure if there’s any advantage to being in Aus when you apply. I think a lot of people who can’t get the skilled independent visa will come to Aus on a tourist visa and start to apply for jobs so that they can get sponsored and stay here long term. But if you don’t need sponsorship, no need to be in Aus while you apply for the visa!

  • Rachel Citrella

    Thank you for sharing this. I enjoy reading your blog. I am also looking and exploring at how to obtain a PR in Australia / NZ.