The Down Under Report: Month 6 of 12

The Down Under Report is a monthly recap of my time and money spent in Australia on the Work and Holiday Visa in 2015. Be sure to check out the other monthly recaps as well!

Work and Holiday visa in Australia

Month 6 in Australia

Coming off the high of an epic last month – which involved galavanting around my new favorite city Melbourne, road tripping 2200 miles to Perth, and trekking on a rugged Queensland island – was a wee bit painful. I knew I had to reign myself in and find some sort of paid work so that I could replenish my savings, so as soon as I got to Perth I hit the ground running and basically carpet bombed every ad I could find for casual work or temporary office jobs. After a very gray hair-inducing internal struggle, I decided to sacrifice the higher pay and potential sponsorship that a corporate job could provide and go for a more uniquely Australian work experience. More on that later!

I knew Perth was exceedingly chilled out and lacking in the, uh, Fun And Exciting Things To Do department – but I didn’t realize how spread out it is. Between the lack of tempting distractions and the effort required to get around, I found myself logging some serious time in the suburbs. I couch surfed in South Fremantle, rented a room on Airbnb in Hamilton Hill, and did a house sit in Clarkson – and managed to catch up on work and life things despite all that schlepping.

One thing Perth does have is beaches – miles and miles of undeveloped, dune-lined white sand beaches. If I wasn’t hibernating indoors in GSD (get sh-t done) Mode, I was nearly always at a beach. I hardly went out at all other than that.

Perth street art
Street art in Fremantle

Speaking of going out, I’m not sure what to make of Perth’s Tinder game. My initial thought as I was swiping through faces of pretty boys who claimed to love adventures and outdoorsy things, was HELLOOOOOOO {insert heart-eyed emoji here}. I matched with a bunch of them and chatted with a fair amount – but then that would be it. There was rarely any follow up. I’m not sure if it has something to do with how far apart all the suburbs are (makes dating more of an effort perhaps?), or how so many guys are FIFO (fly in, fly out) workers up in the mines for a couple weeks at a time. At any rate, I’ve never had that sort of disjointed Tinder experience in any other city before. Maybe it was for the better, because I needed to not be distracted this month.

Once I nailed down a job, my last hurrah was a roadtrip around the Southwest, a region I’ve been aching to see for years. Anna and I spent a few days around Margaret River cycling, wine tasting, and beach hopping, then headed down to Denmark and Albany for more of the same. And with that, I’ve now covered pretty much all of Australia in the 1.5 cumulative years I’ve spent in this country!

Fremantle
Fremantle

Crappy Moments From Month 6:

Stressing over money, plans, and jobs

The thrill I felt upon realizing I was homeless and planless at the start of this month was short lived. The truth is: though I CAN travel with student loans, they are the biggest, baddest bitch in the world, and I need to be a responsible adult and ensure they continue to be paid off on time. I knew that if I didn’t find stable paid work this month, I’d be very close to not being able to make my next loan payment. A minor freakout may have ensued, in which I applied to any and all jobs in Perth that I thought I was remotely qualified for, regardless of what they were.

I think the biggest source of stress, though, wasn’t being nearly broke – it was the thought of settling for any old job just for the sake of money. I deliberately ran away from that miserable lifestyle, and sulking back to it with my tail between my legs would not only be hypocritical of me, but suicidal for my soul.

After enduring one painful interview for a sales/marketing job in North Perth, I reexamined my priorities. I want to cultivate a sustainable income doing work that brings me joy, helps others in a tangible way, and allows me the flexibility to work from anywhere. With that in mind, I said buh-bye to that job offer and resolved never again to consider a job that doesn’t align with my values.

Quokka on Rottnest Island
A quokka on Rottnest Island

Bad weather in the Southwest

One of the risks you take traveling in the offseason is encountering less desirable weather. We had a bit of a mixed weather bag on our Southwest Aussie roadtrip: it started out with glorious spring-like weather and morphed into overcast and often rainy days. We started to regret making the lengthy drive from Margaret River to the Albany/Denmark area – our plans of cycling and beach hopping there would be a bust with crap weather in the cards. I’d like to think we made the most of it, but it was still disappointing to have to resort to a less desirable Plan B.

Favorite Moments From Month 6:

Walking 10 miles up the coast of Perth

Perth beach

In-between days of hibernating indoors trying to sort out my work and money situation, I did the thing that always guarantees me contentment: walking out the door with no plan and setting out on foot to frolic around town. I started in South Fremantle, crossed the Swan River, and ambled along the coast all the way up to Cottesloe, Perth’s most popular beach. I walked almost the entire second half of these 10 miles with my toes in the sand and bare shoulders in the sun, passing through long stretches of undeveloped and near-empty beaches. If this is winter in Perth, I think I’m pretty ok with it.

Reuniting with a friend from NYC

Perth skyline at night

What are the odds that someone you know from back home just happens to be in the same ridiculously remote city as you? Hot off an all-day bike ride up the coast (essentially the same route I mentioned above ^^), I showed up to a waterfront bar shamelessly rocking my neon cycling attire and had a great evening catching up with Stephen. It felt really good to hang with someone who not only relates to my past life, but is following a similar path now. He did the working holiday thing in Australia last year and gave me a little counseling on how to find casual work here (namely: bulk up the customer service-related experience on my resume and get in with the agencies). I felt a million times better about my job prospects after this night!

An afternoon at Rottnest Island

Rottnest Island beach

I didn’t have much on my Perth to-do list other than hit this beautiful island just offshore. Rotto is just MADE for two of my absolute favorite things: cycling and beach hopping. After disembarking the ferry, Anna finagled us a couple of beat-up cruisers and we got right to it. It was an afternoon of ogling turquoise water and white sand dunes and cycling through woods on car-free roads, all on loop for nearly 5 hours. Such a glorious day!

Having a house all to myself

Dog sitting in Australia

I’d been eager to dabble in house sitting for awhile, and without any plans or commitments I figured this month in Perth would be a great time to try my hand at it. The joys and tribulations of house sitting merit a separate post, but let me just say that it turned out to be a lot more challenging to secure a sit than I anticipated. In the end I scored a week at a house up in Clarkson, where I burrowed in a brand new, spacious house with the most precious pup (YES, you read that right – my cat loving/dog hating self spent a week hanging out with a dog AND I FREAKING LOVED IT!). I hardly minded that it took me an hour to get into the city from where I was staying. I kind of didn’t even want to leave the house at all because, I mean, how often do I have an entire house to myself?! Try never. I took full advantage of the luxury: bubble baths were had, literally ALL MY FAVORITE SHOWS were watched on Foxtel, elaborate meals were made in the massive kitchen. It was also just what I needed to get my life in order and catch up on writing, photo editing, and social media-ing. New goal: house sit my way around the rest of Australia and beyond!

House sitting in Australia
The view from the balcony at my first-ever house sit!

Getting a job!

I’m now midway through my year-long Australian Work and Holiday visa and there’s been precisely zero happening on the *work* front that couldn’t have been done on a standard tourist visa (i.e. work exchange and freelancing). I figured it was about time to rectify this and make use of my visa while I have it. It’s been a bit of a mindf-ck having to downplay my professional experience and emphasize (read: embellish and/or fabricate) my prior part-time service-related gigs just to land some casual work in Australia, but hey – if that’s the game I have to play in order to pay my student loans, then I guess that’s happening. (Side note: Anyone see the irony there? Yeah, me too… oh, life!)

On a tip from Stephen, I looked into Jobshop, submitted my resume, and within a few days got a call to work as a kitchen hand at El Questro Wilderness Park up in the Kimberley. Obviously they approved of the 3 semesters I spent working in the kitchen at the Cornell University dining hall 10 years ago (true story, by the way). I was sitting on a hill in Kings Park when I got the call and was absolutely JUBILANT afterwards. I get to spend the next 3 months living in the Outback, how incredible is that?

Cycling around the Margaret River vineyards

Margaret River cycling wine tour

After securing employment, I jumped straight into LET’S DO ALL OF THE THINGS WHILE I CAN mode and took off on a road trip around the Southwest with Anna. Our first day in Margaret River was absolutely epic – for sure a contender for one of the best days I’ve had all year. We hopped on some bikes and cycled a bit of the City Rails trail, then inadvertently ended up at Kahava Koffee and Temper Temper. Who are we to cycle on past free samples of coffee and chocolate? I’d already had 2 cups of coffee by that point, but no matter. And in sum, we probably each had a handful’s worth of the peanut butter caramel chocolate samples. Shameless, I tell you!

From there, we cycled on to 3 different wineries to taste some legendary Margaret River wine. Did I feel slightly guilty for trying every single wine these vineyards had on the tasting menu and then not buying a single bottle? Totally. But I didn’t have any room in my backpack, nor did I necessarily trust myself to cycle back with a glass bottle after all that wine tasting.

Related note: Margaret River Chardonnays are AHHHHHmazing… though Anna and I started referring to it as ‘fartonnay’. Whoopsies! :P

Immersing myself with the animals at the Pentland Alpaca Farm

Pentland Alpaca Farm in Denmark, Australia

Pentland Alpaca Farm in Denmark, Australia

As you may have picked up on, I’m not really an animal person (‘cept for cats, of course). As you can imagine, farms and zoos typically don’t do much for me. But for lack of anything better to do on a rainy day, we visited an alpaca farm near Denmark. Little did we know that this place is basically an immersive zoo containing farm animals and various Aussie critters that you can feed, pet, hold, and/or hang out with. I squealed with excitement as two joeys battled for my affections and held my hands. THEY ARE SO STINKIN’ CUTE! We fed some soggy alpacas that had been out in the rain, then somehow ended up sitting in a goat pen for a good hour or so just hanging out with some little goats and lambs. Like, literally sitting in the pen with our tushies in hay and poo. It was completely ridiculous – just the way I like most things in my life.

Little Beach

Little Beach in Albany, Australia

I know, I know – so many of my favorite moments involve a beautiful beach. But this one was especially satisfying because we were expecting to see yet another desaturated beach, thanks to clouds and the weaker winter sun. Instead, we were gifted with bright blue water and smooth white sand with a few massive boulders to jazz up the scene. Whatta stunner!

Margaret River forest
The forest in Margaret River

Month 6 Numbers

I was at my scrappiest this month, manifesting all sorts of freebies to cut down on expenses. Between various house sits, a handful of nights crashing on someone’s couch, and a free stay in Margaret River, I only paid for a week’s worth of accommodation. Borrowing a car for our road trip was a huge money saver as well.

Transportation proved to be costly, though. It turns out Perth is a very spread out city, and without a car to get around you wind up spending way more time and money on trains and buses. And on a related note: I logged far fewer miles on foot this month and I’m not happy about it. My accommodation was often inconveniently located in suburbs where it didn’t make sense to walk to get to where you were going, hence why I was constantly bussing it to get around.

I also managed to complete some freelance jobs this month, but I haven’t been paid yet for them so they’ll be counted on a future monthly recap!

Coffee tasting in Margaret River
Coffee tasting in Margaret River

Perth

Dates: 17 May – 7 June 2015
# of Days: 22
Total $ Spent: US$738.73
Major Expenses: Public transport – US$110, Airbnb – US$172 for 6 nights

Southwest Australia Roadtrip

Dates: 8-13 June 2015
# of Days: 6
Total $ Spent: US$259.69

Total

Dates: 17 May – 13 June 2015
# of Days: 28
Total $ Spent: US$998.42
Total $ Made: US$25
Average $ Spent: US$35.66/day
Average Miles Walked: 4.2 miles/day
# Beds Slept In: 7
# Couches Slept On: 1
# Nights Camping: 3

Sunset in Perth

Year-To-Date Numbers (Months 1-6):

Dates: 12 December 2014 – 13 June 2015
# of Days: 186
Total $ Spent: US$7327
Total $ Made: US$522.50
Average $ Spent: US$39.39/day
# Beds Slept In: 26
# Couches Slept On: 3
# Nights Camping: 36
# Dates: 16

What’s Next

For the next few months, I’ll be in the Kimberley (in the far north-central part of Australia) working at El Questro and banking enough money to take care of my loan payments for the foreseeable future. When I’m not washing dishes like a boss, I’ll be exploring the crazy-awesome landscapes around the resort and taking advantage of the free day trips that staff members get. All in the name of adventure, as always!

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?


  • LOL to ‘finagled’ ! I feel that deal was fully fair given the conditions and circumstances. You were chuffed :p

    • lindsaypunk

      Agreed – I was totes chuffed! :P

  • OMG the awful irony of getting a degree from Cornell and then having to wash dishes to pay it off. But washing dishes in Australia is way cooler than washing dishes anywhere else. I worked at my college dining hall for two quarters so maybe i’ll meet you there!!

    • lindsaypunk

      UGH I know. I keep telling myself that it’s better than rotting away at a job I hate and having a life that’s boring just for the sake of using my degree. So hey, it could be worse. Though I’m still bitter, of course >:o

  • I’m still blown away by those numbers. Food alone is so expensive in Australia!

    • lindsaypunk

      SERIOUSLY, food is turning out to be a huge chunk of my expenses! And that’s with hardly any meals out.