The Down Under Report: Month 11 of 12

This post was last updated on 2019 August 7

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!

Australia work and holiday visa

Month 11 in Australia

Sweet Jesus, what a month.

So much has happened in recent weeks! Namely: I’m dating App Guy, I’ve consumed copious amounts of wine, and I’ve been hit by the perfect storm of freelancing gigs.

When no cafe or agency wanted to hire me due to lack of hospitality experience (can’t argue that) and the need to sponsor me, respectively, I said f*ck that noise and continued to seek out part-time digital projects. I’m still doing web design and SEO work for that start-up I got in with last month, and I’m still doing some writing here and there. In addition to that, I’ve taken on some consulting work for my old boss’s new company.

As usual, I’ve been all over the place in terms of living arrangements. My October housing was split between renting a room in a sharehouse in Brunswick and house sitting in Reservoir. Brunswick was great in terms of location, street art, and just overall vibes. Reservoir, while a perfectly nice suburb fit for families with cars, was far from most anything of interest – which gave me a good excuse to hibernate and get some serious work done. In November, I relocated to Camberwell to live in a massive(ly cheap) sharehouse for a month. It is perfect in nearly every way, and I’m super sad that we all have to vacate before December when it’ll be torn down.

Melbourne street art

Favorite Moments From Month 11:

Circus Cabaret At The Melbourne Festival

I used to be amazed at how many events take place in NYC, but honestly: Melbourne’s cultural happenings are far more impressive. In the past two months, the Melbourne Fringe, Melbourne Festival, Royal Melbourne Show, Melbourne Cup Carnival, and now Melbourne Music Week have all taken place – all multi-day affairs for which the entire city seems to emerge.

On our first date, App Guy and I got really excited about the idea of seeing a show at the Melbourne Festival together. Shortly after, we secured tickets to Limbo, “the show so hot, Madonna came twice”. And HOLY WOW was my first-ever circus cabaret show one for the books. We watched performers swallow swords lit on fire, do crazy aerial stunts, practice acrobatics on tall skinny poles, and contort their bodies into positions I never thought were feasible. It was quite possibly the most entertained I’ve ever been.

We followed that with a lovely stroll along the Yarra at night, which is one of my favorite things to do in Melbourne. It was the perfect end to a fantastic evening!

Melbourne at night

Waterfront Picnic

I’m a girl of simple pleasures. One of my favorite times spent with App Guy this month was when I met him after work outside his office with homemade dinner packed in tupperware containers and a bottle of Pinot Noir, and had ourselves a picnic dinner on a patch of riverfront grass with a lovely view of Southbank.

Melbourne Docklands
We picnicked on the grass on the left side of this photo!

Cycling Down The Coast From Melbourne

I feel like I say this an awful lot, but man: I really need to buy a bike. I really lucked out at my Brunswick accommodation, where I was able to borrow a bike whenever I wanted – can you blame me for putting this purchase off for just a tad longer? I picked an exceptionally hot, sunny day to cycle through the city and down the coast to Sandringham (35km in total). I’ve cycled from St. Kilda to Brighton before, but this time I went a bit further down the coast to the headland at Sandringham, where I was rewarded with some pretty stellar views toward Black Rock. Next time I’m determined to ride even further south toward Mordialloc, where I hear the scenery gets even better!

Melbourne beach
Sandringham Beach, Melbourne

Surviving My Barista Trial

So, during my first month in Melbourne I applied to any job I could find that looked interesting. Not surprisingly, nearly every single hospitality job I went for I never heard back about (likely they looked at my white collar job-laden resume, LOL’d, and hit the delete button), and every full time marketing or tech position I applied for let me know that they loved me, but couldn’t sponsor me to work for them. This is how I unintentionally became a full-blown freelancer.

But, there was one casual job I’d inquired about where the hiring manager actually seriously entertained the idea of taking me on. I was rather ambivalent about potentially having to make coffee from 6am-12pm each weekday (YAY for unlimited coffee and cash-in-hand job security! BOO for early-ass mornings and making about 1/3 of what I’d earn hourly doing skilled freelance work). I’d never worked as a barista before, but with a summer of messing around with the espresso machine at El Questro and a barista training class behind me, I somehow managed to do ok during my first trial there. I was asked to come back the following week for a second trial and spent two hours making coffee drinks for customers at Hawthorn Station. I won’t say I was the smoothest, fastest, or most talented candidate for the job, but I’m glad I put myself out there and tried something entirely new.

It’s been two weeks and I haven’t heard back, so I’m going to assume it’s game over. Which is just as well, because I’m pretty slammed with freelance work and am leaving town soon anyway.

Yarra Valley wine tour

My First Yarra Valley Wine Tour

Wine tasting in the Yarra Valley should be atop any wine enthusiast’s Melbourne to-do list. As much as I love to go against the grain and chase offbeat adventures, this is one touristy thing I was way too eager to embrace. While Lizzie (a friend from El Questro) was in town, we booked ourselves onto a Chillout Travel wine tour and had so much delicious wine on the most glorious of spring days. I couldn’t get over how stunning the grounds of Domaine Chandon were, or how insanely delicious the red wines were at Zonzo Estate.

Yarra Valley wine tour

Landing Lots Of Gigs In Such A Short Time Span

Is there a positive spin on the cliched phrase, “when it rains, it pours”? That’s what happened one day this month when I got word that I’d landed a month-long house sit in a fantastic Melbourne neighborhood over the holidays, got offered some project work at a top notch digital marketing agency in the city, and scored a web design gig – all within the span of a few hours.

House sitting in Australia
House sitting in Reservoir, Melbourne

Scoring An Amazing Sublet In Camberwell

Once November hit, I had no accommodation lined up after my Reservoir house sit. Within the span of 5 hours, I’d snagged a furnished room that a girl was renting out because she was moving out a month before her lease ended. And boy did I hit the jackpot here! In addition to it being absurdly cheap, the room is furnished with the most comfortable bed I’ve slept on all year, a massive flatscreen tv that I’ve still yet to use (oops), and really pretty bedding. Plus, the house is massive and the housemates couldn’t be sweeter. I’m really enjoying getting to know Camberwell and hitting up its many coffee shops. I even joined a yoga and pilates studio here and have been going for runs along the nearby Gardiner Creek. I could definitely see myself living in Camberwell for an extended period in the future!

Yarra Valley vineyard

My Second Yarra Valley Wine Tour

Because once this month was clearly not enough, I headed back out for more wine tasting in Yarra Valley. This time, I took App Guy along with me on a Vinetrekker wine tour. We stopped at 5 wineries, bingeing on the region’s finest Chardonnay and indulging in one of the fanciest lunches either of us has ever had the pleasure of enjoying (I mean, have you ever even heard of rockling, purple congo, pumpkin terrine, or boudin blanc?). It was très romantique wineing and dining amidst the gorgeous valley landscapes – you know you’ve got a keeper when he suggests you go frolicking together in the vineyards! ;)

Varra Valley wine tour

Sunday Market and Brunch in Camberwell

The morning after our wine tour, App Guy and I went into town to grab brunch on what ended up being a gorgeous sunny day in Melbourne. I had some immensely satisfying truffle scrambled eggs and bacon, with a cup of what just may be the finest coffee in Camberwell, at Prospect Espresso. We then walked off the start of a food coma at the Sunday Market, which we vowed to return to on another weekend because it was just starting to shut down by the time we arrived. Such a lovely morning, which made holing up the rest of the day with our laptops a little less discouraging!

Brunch in Camberwell, Melbourne
Brunch on a different day, at My Other Brother in Camberwell

Selling $2000+ Worth of Images

I have quite a meticulous system for editing, tagging, and backing up all the photos I take. Mostly it’s tedious, but I’m especially grateful for the effort I’ve put into it when I need to find a very specific image in my archives and can pull it out within seconds of searching.

So when I saw a call out for certain types of travel photos taken in the US, it took me no time to grab close to 100 images that fit the bill and submit them for consideration. A few months later, I was informed that this publication wanted to purchase several of them, to the tune of over $2000 in sum. Not too bad, considering I didn’t go out of my way to take these shots for the purpose of selling them someday. I still have this fat paycheck to look forward to, but it was thrilling just to send that invoice!

Crappy Moments From Month 11:

Visa Stress

I’ve been avoiding dealing with the impending expiration of my Australian work and holiday visa, but I figured with less than 2 months left on it… it miiiiiight be wise to start looking at my options if I want to stay in Australia (which, DUH, I do!). I spent a solid few weeks waffling between them: Do I drop money on the cheapest course possible just to get a student visa? Should I get a tourist visa which technically does not allow me to work in Australia? Should I try to get sponsored by a company which then ties me to full time work as long as I want to stay here? Or do I start my own company here and sponsor myself?

The thing that kills me is that there’s a skilled occupation list that lists the types of jobs in demand in Australia – and if you’re qualified for any of them, you can easily get a working visa and then do whatever you want once you’re here. Would you believe that NONE of my many skills are included on it, yet jobs like plumber and hairdresser are? Why can’t I just keep doing what I’m doing and not bother anyone or take jobs away from the locals? It’s just so silly, the process Australia has in place to control migration.

I met with a Migration Consultant and ultimately decided to go for the tourist visa, which is good for a year and allows stays of up to 3 months at a time. Which means, oh darn, I’ll have to leave the country every couple months. More international travel, you say? Well ok! Good thing cheap flights to Bali and New Zealand are aplenty here.

I’m going to look into pursuing the self-sponsorship option because it’s a better long-term plan and can lead to permanent residency, but I want to allow myself time to nail every detail of the process rather than rushing it just to apply before my current visa expires. Apparently it’s ridiculously involved!

Coffee in Melbourne

Boy Problems

Ugh, I’m torn here. I don’t want to reveal all the intimate details of a budding relationship out of respect for privacy, but I feel like I can’t *not* at least mention some things.

So let’s just say that everything with App Guy and I has been going amazingly, with the exception of two instances early on that left me wondering if maybe there is some truth to those soul crushing articles about why you should never date a girl who travels. But they’re in the past now, and we’re in a fuzzy happy place these days :)

My Website Going Down

Waking up at 6am to people letting you know that your website is down is basically the worst way to start your day if you’re an online entrepreneur. First, my server was down for a good 11 or 12 hours, during the time in which my core audience (Americans) are awake and online. PERFECT, right? My web host eventually got their shiz together and got it back up and running.

But then I noticed a whole slew of other problems with my site, like images not loading when I tried to add them to new blog posts, and posts not loading on my blog’s homepage. What followed was a week of back-and-forth with like 4 different tech guys at my web hosting company, me begging them to please oh please fix it all, and them suggesting various fixes and doing a bunch of restores. In the end, it was my databases that needed to be repaired and restored.

I still have no idea what happened, but I’ve never felt more relieved to have my website up and functioning again.

Hiking the 1000 Steps near Melbourne
Lizzie and I hiking the 1000 Steps near Melbourne

Month 11 Numbers:

Ahh, Month 11: the month my freelance earnings finally exceeded my spending! That’s a massive milestone for me, and a mark I’m poised to exceed in Month 12. Hooray!

Dates: 10 October – 9 November 2015
# of Days: 29
Top Expenses: Rent – US$348 (19 nights)
Total $ Spent: US$904.92
$ Made Freelancing: US$1322.71
Total $ Made: US$1322.71
Average $ Spent: US$31.20/day
Average Miles Walked: 5.15 miles/day
# Beds Slept In: 3

Year-To-Date Numbers (Months 1-11):

Dates: 12 December 2014 – 9 November 2015
# of Days: 331
Total $ Spent: US$11,751.53
Average $ Spent: US$35.50/day
$ Made Freelancing: US$3180.14
$ Made at Jobs: US$6242.76
Total $ Made: US$9422.90
# Beds Slept In: 35
# Couches Slept On: 3
# Nights Camping: 50
# Days Roadtripping: 26
# Days House Sitting: 42
# Dates: 19
# Flights: 9
# Books Read: 21

Melbourne laneway

What’s Next

My last month on the Australia Work and Holiday visa is going to be cut a little short of my December 11 end date because I’m skipping out to Bali at the end of November!

I’ll be packing lots into these last few weeks, though: completing an intensive barista training program in Melbourne, doing more freelance work than ever, adventuring with my NYC pal slash fellow photographer Nicki when she comes to visit, and hanging out with App Guy as much as possible!

But don’t worry – I’ll be returning to Australia on a different visa in mid-December. I’m not quite ready to quit this country!