1. Befriend more Germans, Brits, and Canadians than Australians
One of the hazards of living and working with mostly foreigners is that you know hardly any Australians. You may celebrate Canada Day and be able to say key phrases in German, but never discussed Tony Abbott’s many embarrassing statements with an actual Aussie. Locals don’t hang out at most of the places working holidaymakers do, and tend to work more long-term jobs, not the casual hospitality jobs that attract backpackers. They’re also not out to explore their own countries like visitors are.
2. Pound goon like a boss
Nothing is more important to backpackers in Australia than goon, a questionable boxed wine. In this land of quality vineyards, goon — sometimes made with fish products — is laughably cheap. Working visa participants haven’t REALLY lived here until they’ve consumed their weight in Fruity Lexia, and used an inflated goon bag as a pillow.
3. Be broke as hell, but still gladly drop $50 on a night out
The higher minimum wage is better than many parts of the world ($16.87 at time of publishing, plus a superannuation fund and tips if applicable), but it’s still expensive to live in Australia. Most of your paycheck likely goes to food and rent, but when the weekend comes, it’s time to blow the remainder of your funds on nightclub entry fees at Cargo Bar in Darling Harbour, overpriced cocktails at Opera Bar, and a cab ride home to your sad share house in Bondi Junction.
4. Own no professional looking clothing
You’ll comb the aisles of Vinnie’s looking for solid black shoes and a white collared shirt for your banquet-serving job, or you’ll pick through the hostel’s “free” bin for something to wear to an interview.
I didn’t need nice clothes when I walked into the bar to hand them my resume, nor when I actually worked there, as we had uniforms. I only needed them for the two days of training required by the hotel. I ran around the sales racks at Cotton On and Ally in search for a basic skirt and sweater. My housemates also donated some of their old clothing to my cause.
5. Score killer backpacker deals
Backpacker deals are the best thing ever, especially when it comes to food and booze. Nearly every city has a place for broke working holidaymakers to flock to when funds are running low. At backpacker bars, you’ll find discounted Toohey’s New, buckets of jam jars, crab racing, giveaways, and jelly wrestling, plus the occasional half-priced pizza. It’s a cheap-and-easy escape from the drudgery that is an Australian work-visa placement.
6. Settle down in a 10-bed hostel room or share a flophouse in King’s Cross with roommates from all over the world
I stayed with a friend for a few months in Sydney and quickly found the city’s apartment situation depressing: it was either share a bedroom with a quiet Korean girl in Ashfield or live in a house with dirty bunk beds and an ever-rotating set of residents in Marrickville. Work-visa residents scramble to find a place to live because of the high rent costs and shortage of apartments close to the city. And most people won’t let an apartment to you unless you meet in person first, so you can’t arrange it before you go. Hostels will do for the first week or two, but many people move into cramped backpacker apartments in World Square and share rooms for a split rate of $100 per week.
7. Take on all sorts of random jobs to keep traveling
You’re not in a position to turn anything down, whether it’s handing out fliers for the newest nightclub in Fortitude Valley, or recruiting donations to Oxfam. While I ended up bartending at a Marriott hotel, I’ve known people to work at hostels (not as fun as it sounds), sell concessions at AFL games, telemarketing, and serving as a “human billboard.” The goal is to make enough money to pay your rent, feed yourself, and be able to travel around the country as much as possible; jobs that pay in cash and involve harassing people on street corners are your best bet.
8. Get an RSA certificate, even if you don’t work at a bar
Many “arrival packages” booked by travel agencies include an RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol) course, which is a requirement of working at bars and restaurants in Australia. The boring full-day or online course is so easy an idiot could pass it, but is a rite of passage for working holidaymakers, even if you never end up working in hospitality. Don’t be surprised if your teacher tells you exactly which questions are on the test (and their answers), or lets you do it with an open book. It’s all the more embarrassing if you can’t answer the question, “What is the standard pour for liquor?”
9. Spend three months picking fruit in Woop Woop
Long gone are the days of paying off a farmer to get past the convoluted work-permit requirements, so most end up spending months working on farms to get their second-year visa, allowing them to enjoy the “no worries” culture for just a bit longer. You’ll find yourself scanning the Harvest Trail website for leads before taking Greyhound for some godforsaken stretch of earth named Bong Bong or Disappointment Hill. From there, you’ll harvest fruits and vegetables for a few months, fighting your fellow backpackers for work.
10. Spend hours Skype-ing home at an internet cafe while everyone you love is sleeping
The time difference between Australia and the rest of the world makes communicating difficult. You can set your alarm for the early hours for important convos, but otherwise rely on WhatsApp for all other conversation needs.
11. Do just about anything to obtain permanent residency
For the thousands of travelers that come to Australia every year on a working holiday, only a small fraction get sponsored to stay in the country and continue to work. Many travelers will do just about anything to stick around indefinitely, even if it means accepting a job they don’t like, spending 12 hours a day picking spider infested mangoes, going back to school, or marrying an Aussie.