Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Working & Holidaying Down Under: Visa Info & Tips for the Big Move!

I've decided to create this post because I still get heaps of people contacting me asking for advice on how to go about planning a year in Australia. I'm still very happy to answer individual questions, but here's a go-to for all you Aussie-lovers and/or wannabes out there...

Working Holiday Visa

Basically, if you are between 18 and 30 years of age (have to apply before your 30th birthday so technically you can be 31 while under a WHV) and have not obtained the same visa in the same country, you are most likely eligible to live in that country for up to 12 months! How awesome is that?! For all the facts, check out this link. In Australia, you can even stay a second year if you pick fruit for three months! (Really wish I had been able to do this.) If you think there is even the slightest chance you'll want to stay longer than a year, I recommend looking into this and doing it sooner than later. 

Obtaining a WHV is very easy. All you have to do is fill out the form online. My application was approved within 24 hours. Make sure you are set on going because (1) it's a once-in-a-lifetime visa and (2) you have a deadline to set foot in the country after receiving your visa approval (I believe it's 90 days). You are able to come and go as you please, but you only get 12 months from the date you land in Australia under this visa. Again, you can find all this info on the website.

A little overwhelmed? No worries, mate. There are plenty of resources to help you on your way.  

Many of the emails I receive are in regards to Cultural Embrace, an organization dedicated to getting more young people out in the world, whether to teach, volunteer, intern, work, or just play! I went through CE when planning my big trip across the world. Although I'm glad I did this, I would not necessarily say it's for everyone and this is specifically in regards to the Work in Australia program. To get a better idea of how this program (or ones like it) may or may not benefit you, I have created two lists:

Reasons you should consider CE when planning your big move:

  • You have never travled by yourself or have never lived in foreign country before. Venturing out on your own, especially to live for an extended period of time can be scary. Thus, it can be comforting to have the help of an organization to get you there, make sure all the t's and i's are crossed and dotted before you land, and assist in getting you settled those first overwhelming days. CE set up an airport pickup, the first few days of lodging for me, and an orientation with the Work and Travel Company in Sydney, which was a fantastic intro to the Australian culture as well as a place that set me up with necessities like a cell phone, bank account, and social events with other WTC members.*
  • You want to get there ASAP! When I made the decision to go live in Australia, I wanted to leave the next day! Slight exaggeration, but I didn't want to stay any longer than I had to. CE helped in this way because they knew exactly what I needed to accomplish before leaving and guided me along the way. They provide you with a check-list, contacts/links, and take care of some of the business for you so you can concentrate on packing. 
  • There's a good chance you won't stop traveling after this adventure. Be sure to cruise around CE's website. They offer tons of different kinds of programs. Some of these may take place in a country with a different native language or with stricter visa restrictions. You may benefit from CE's assistance with these programs. If you go through them once, you'll be guaranteed more discounts in future expeditions.
  • You appreciate reliable and friendly serviceI gotta say, the people over in the CE office really do take care of you. From the moment I showed interest in their program, I was assigned to one representative who was my point of contact throughout the entire process. She was always there to answer questions, got back to me immediately if I left her a message or wrote her an email, checked in with me constantly, and all the while very attentive to my needs and concerns. If for any reason she was out of the office for a few days, another staff member would take over with ease.  
*If social events and connecting with others is a big concern as a solo traveler, please don't forget there are fantastic social networks out there now for travelers, ones I wish I had known about when I first set foot in a foreign land. While preparing for you trip, make sure to check out sites like Tripping and Meetup. If you're anything like me, you're going to want to immerse yourself in your new culture by meeting locals- people outside the backpackers' bars. 

Reasons you probably don't need CE to plan your trip:

  • You have traveled alone or lived abroad before. If you are an experienced independent travler, you may not need the guidance or assistance of such programs. For me, it was nice to be connected to an organization simply to make the big move a little less hectic and difficult. However, now that I have done the year away on my own, I probably wouldn't need to go through something like this (at least not for the same type of trip and in an English-speaking country).
  • Your main concern is employment and/or housing. I hate to say it, but from my experience, I had to find a place to live and work on my own. CE did hook me up with WTC, for which I am grateful. For the first couple months, I was in the WTC office all the time and it was an extremely helpful resource as far as always being able to answer my questions and better acquaint me with life in Australia. However, they do not guarantee job placement or finding you a place to stay. Sure they can book hostel dorms for you and they have some listings posted on their bulletin boards, but these are limited and you'll find yourself waiting around for a job this way. I should say that if you have no preference in how you make money while you're there, they do have plenty of labor-intensive factory jobs. I for one wanted a job in which I could meet people and be engaged in the aussie lifestyle aka hospitality. It wasn't until I printed out about 30 resumes and spent a day cruising the streets of Sydney speaking to as many managers as I could that I nailed a job. Despite the blisters, I got to know the city very well in one day (I knew of places and streets that some of my aussie flatmates hadn't heard of). In addition to this, the job I did get lead to another job once my six months were up (WHV time limit for each employer). Hospitality is great this way. Plus both jobs were really fun and I was able to make great friends from them (and in Australia, the hourly wage is WAY better than the US). As far as housing goes, I found my place through Gumtree. There are heaps of ads posted here every day. 
  • You're on a strict budgetThis program was not cheap (and I believe the price goes up every year). It does get you hostel discounts, a WTC membership which provides more discounts on various attractions, etc. So depending on what you intend on doing while away, this could be cost-beneficial. The YHA discounts were nice when I was traveling around, but I didn't spend my year backpacking like many on the WHV do. This leads me to my concluding point:
  • You have time to do some research. Unlike me, you may have more time (read: more patience) to plan your trip. Therefore, you can really establish your cost-benefit analysis. Maybe the fees are worth it in the end. Maybe you feel confident in figuring it all out on your own. Time will tell. Literally.  

  1. First and foremost, you need to take advantage of this visa regardless of which way you go about obtaining it and what you decide to do once you have. Remember: once in a lifetime!
  2. If you're not sure where to go, check out Cultural Embrace for great ideas and keep an eye out for specials by signing up for their newsletter or liking their facebook page.
  3. If you're not sure where to go, pick Australia! You won't regret it. Trust me. 
  4. If you have any further questions about the Australian immigration/WHV, working in Australia, anything about Sydney or my personal experience, please do not hesitate to contact me: lauren.nicholl@gmail.com

Hope this was helpful! I love hearing about people's travel experiences, especially down under, so make sure to share your thoughts! "Ta!"

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tourist in Her Own Town- Second Stop: Crissy Field

I went to meet some Tripping peeps to film our diski dance video (stay tuned) promoting cultural exchange/ the World Cup. Getting to the Presidio from Vallejo was not a pleasant journey due to the normal Bay Bridge traffic so needless to say, I arrived 45 minutes late and not in the best of moods. At this point, I just wanted to get this over with and move on with my day.

My mood immediately one-eighty'ed however once I stepped out of the car. I felt the sun's warmth, the bay's breeze, and soon after caught the breathtaking sights of San Francisco. Hello home! I had only been to the Presidio a couple of times prior to this. Both times were at night and I was lost so the scenery received very little of my attention. It literally is a breath of fresh air in/out of the city.

Right: Butterscotch- our tripod/audience/critic 

After trying to make the best of our filming and choreography "skills" in the midst of families flying kites, couples running, and out-of-towners on bike tours, we called it a wrap. The rest of the group went on with their days, but I couldn't leave, not just yet. Yes, I have seen the Golden Gate Bridge countless times and have probably snapped over a dozen pictures of Alcatraz, but I have this condition: have camera, will photograph. Uber-touristy spots not excluded. (When I lived in Sydney, if I was walking or ferrying by the Opera House, I could not not take a picture. It was like my camera had a mind of its own. Opera House pictures probably take up a gig on my laptop.)

After taking some photos of all the necessary sights, I still didn't want to leave. So what if I had things to do and that I was already 45 minutes behind schedule? It was so beautiful out and I was thoroughly enjoying being a tourist. So I went into the Warm Hut Bookstore and Cafe to have a browse of all the SF souvenirs and memorabilia and grab a little bite and a large iced coffee. I had my own picnic table outside in the sun with my own impeccable view of Alcatraz and the city. I don't even know how long I sat there, but while soaking up the vitamin D I soaked up the plethora of surrounding languages and amused myself with thoughts of hypothetical journeys these tourists were on. Usually I would be envious of such travelers, but hey, today I got to be one of them, even if only for an afternoon. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tourist In Her Own Town- First Stop: AT&T Park

One of the many things on my list as a new San Franciscan has been to go to a Giant game! It's one of those things that I feel needs to be checked off one's list as part of the initiation process or something.

To be clear, I will always be a Padres girl. I will probably eventually be a Giants fan (once I am fully initiated I suppose), but they will never take the friar-shaped spot in my heart.

At last night's game I wore Dodgers colors. I'm still pretty indifferent at this point, but Lindsey gave me the ticket and she's a die-hard Dodgers fan. So I wore blue and white to support her. (Plus I grew up with a Dodgers dad so it wasn't too much of a stretch.)

Things I learned from my first AT&T Park experience:

1. Giants HATE the Dodgers. I couldn't believe how many "Beat LA" and "Dodgers Suck" shirts there were and other such "Beat LA" logos scattered throughout the stadium. With that being said, I was surprised at the turn-out on a Monday night and impressed with how much blue occupied the seats. Padres games are great, but they are never these heated. This made it a slightly different baseball experience.

2. Giants stadium is very pretty. Reminds me of Petco- right on the water, intimate, clean, close to downtown with plenty of great happy hour/ pre-game bars to frequent.

3. Talk about microclimates! There are 50 in the seven-mile city apparently. I think I experienced at least five within the three hours I was sitting in one spot. I'm still slowly learning how to properly layer in the city and I think the Giants stadium deserves its own chapter in the manual.

All-in-all baseball games are always fun and this was no exception. I may not be a die-hard Giants fan quite yet (or ever- I'm still uneasy about the prospect), but I can confidently label myself a big fan of San Francisco. This isn't news, but I find this love reinforced with every new experience. It's a different kind of tourism exploring a city knowing it's your new home.

Monday, June 28, 2010

@WanderLoz Get the Best of Where You Are!

It's Monday. The weekend festivities have drained from my system. I've had a full night's rest and a venti iced coffee. I'm ready to take on a new week.

Besides the ridiculous amount of caffeine in my system, I have the inspiration of others fueling my enthusiasm this morning. Last week and through the weekend I have been living vicariously through all the attendees at the Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX) in New York City via Twitter. I have been an avid travel blog follower since returning to the states after a year away. I've found a comfort in reading about others' traveling experiences. It reminds me that the world will always be there for me to explore regardless of age, relationships, circumstance. As long as you have dreams, you have the power to pursue and reach them. The idea of being surrounded by like-minded and travel-driven individuals for an entire weekend in one of the world's most exciting cities kept me glued to my computer screen for the better part of my days last week (as if I'm not already).

There are so many amazing blogs out there that I find myself spending more time reading them and less time working on my own (hence no entries this month). I figure these people are actually exploring the world. They're out there doing incredible things. I'm stagnant. I'm just trying to find a job so I can (1) pay off my debts from last year's adventures and (2) save for the next trip. That's not exciting.

It has occurred to me recently that okay, I may not be hiking Machu Picchu or tripping across Southeast Asia, but I am experiencing a new chapter, one that I am sure to learn from, in a city that many people dream to visit. In addition, I have been places and therefore have my own words of wisdom I'd like to think.

I had already been thinking about how I need to document my thoughts and experiences more in order to be better prepared to do so when I do make that round the world trip. This point was reinforced by Christine Gilbert of AlmostFearless in her interview by RunawayJane (see her answer to no.3). Another blog worth mentioning and a particular post that moved me this morning is by OverYonderlust. Words written by these fellow travelers keep me grounded and life in perspective and for this I am grateful. Lastly, it was TravelholicA's tweet (see title) that affirmed my recent thoughts and set this post in motion...

As this is already getting a bit lengthy, I will conclude this entry with what I had originally intended on writing about: San Francisco. This is the beautiful city I am now exploring and this past weekend happened to be PRIDE, one of the many festivals that make this city so vibrant, colorful, and alive. It is something I am passionate about and something that made me proud to be here and nowhere else in the world. I am lucky to be in a city that is open and accepting to all walks of life; a city that offers something to any and all cultures; a city so technologically driven and exciting to be a part of today.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Still Slightly Upside-Down and Backwards

It's really depressing when it suddenly dawns on me that I'm no longer a Sydneysider. Don't worry, I'm not crazy. I am fully aware that I don't live in Sydney anymore, but every once in a while I'll realize the Aussie in me is not as present as the day before.

To elaborate, today I realized that I no longer "speak in questions" as my American friend once pointed out when he came to visit me in Sydney. I've lost the heightened inflection at the end of my sentences that was once so natural to me. It's like losing your sexy sick voice- you always expected it to go back to normal, and you may not notice when it does, but when you do, you can't help but miss it. I'm not even really sure how it sounds anymore; I can't even fake it. :(

I still find myself walking on the left side of busy sidewalks. I find it amusing because it used to drive me crazy when tourists would walk on the right side in Sydney and not recognize and adapt to the Australian way of pedestrian etiquette. Now, instead of moving over to the right side, I keep to the left. I think it's a sad attempt to stay connected to my life down under. (I do move to the right on escalators- don't want to upset people at the bart station.)
I am happy to say that even though I find it difficult to stick to the right side of sidewalks, I am once again a confident driver in the states and always stick to the right side of the road (it did take a brief and somewhat frightening period of second-guessing).

Although it is difficult to keep up a working vocabulary of Australian lingo, there are some words I refuse to give up, despite the confusion it may cause with my friends here. Usually I can get by with things like "brekky" (breakfast) or "sunnies" (sunglasses) due to their obvious derivatives and the fact that my friends aren't stupid. I love "arvo" (afternoon) and I can't get it out of my head so I'll use it regularly (most of my friends know it now and some of them even use it!). "Cheers" and "heaps" will always be a part of my regular jargon and occasionally I'll reply "that's alright" instead of "you're welcome". I still find myself answering questions starting with "yeah..." (For instance if someone asks how my day's going- "yeah, it's been good, thanks.") I still have to double check if I'm using "entree" properly (here= main course; oz= starter). I get weird looks when I order a glass of "cab sauv" (vs. "cab"). It's strange that one year away can trump 23 years at home when it comes to how I walk and talk. Although such exchanges may cause confusion, I enjoy it because it allows me to explain a part of Australia and thus a part of me.

Despite the faded Aussie in me, "Lozza" is still there. She will never leave. That is the beauty of travel- the act itself is inherently temporary, but the impressions it leaves are permanent. I'll wrap this up with one of my favourite quotes (that's the other thing, I have to constantly check my spelling- I'm just going to leave that for effect): "The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land." - G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, May 20, 2010

That's Amore!

I read a great blog post about a dining experience that may have lasted too long and cost too much, but ended up being a memorable meal, not only in the food itself, but in the hospitality and service. The writer asked for readers to share their stories and I felt compelled. After writing it all out, I was having trouble posting it for some reason, so I thought I'd at least share it on my blog:

This reminds me of a dining experience I had in Melbourne, Australia at Mulatta, a quaint, authentic Italian restaurant on the upscale Chapel Street. I took a train and trekked about 20 blocks after a full-day in the St. Kilda sun. I was more tired than hungry and definitely had already spent my weekend's budget. However, I promised my aunt and uncle that I would go try "the best pizza in the world" (this coming from my aunt who was born and raised in Abruzzo, Italy and is probably the best Italian cook I've ever met). They had spent a few months in Melbourne and after discovering Mulatta, would frequent there a few times a week, and soon became a part of the staff's family. So being that it was my last night in Melbourne, I felt obligated...

I got an uneasy feeling walking down Chapel Street unable to ignore the plethora of designer shops and people out dressed to the nines. This was not going to be a cheap meal. And to add to it, my hostel roommate was originally going to accompany me, but decided to save her dollars and stay in. This was all on me.

I finally found Mulatta. It was a perfect spot for a nice date with the candlelit white table cloths. Too bad I was by myself. The owner wasn't in, but I found the manager on duty and mentioned the names of my aunt and uncle. When he realized who I was talking about he almost leapt for joy. So passionate; so Italian. He immediately had a table set for me and as I was looking over the wine list, he had a full antipasto platter sent to my table.

I couldn't help but get caught up in the romance of the Mediterranean atmosphere so I ordered a glass of Chianti. The menu was extensive to say the least- the pizza alone took up about four pages (each one somewhere around $20). At least I'd probably have lunch for tomorrow? The food was phenomenal. The mozzarella was so light and creamy, the meat was so fresh, the flavors out of this world. As I enjoyed my delicious starter and the colorful conversations around me, my waitress came around and topped up my wine (uh-oh, I hope she knows I didn't want a bottle). The pizza came and I was already filling up, but one slice was definitely not enough. I swear I forgot I was in Australia for a minute.

As I indulged in the "best pizza in the world" and my second (or third) glass of wine, the manager came and sat with me for a while and we exchanged stories. When he had to tend to his job, another waiter came and took his place. He knew my aunt and uncle well and had so much fun telling me stories about their time there. This night was picking up. I came in alone, but over dinner, had the pleasure of TWO dates with very attractive Italian men. Meanwhile, the waitress made sure my glass was never empty... I could only eat half of the pizza and I was busting at the seems, but I was so so happy. Of course, they insisted I had dessert. I could not physically endure another bite. I resisted. I was perfectly content with my wine and my company. I guess I stuck around too long though because eventually they persuaded me to "try" a "little" gelato. They brought out THREE scoops of gelato! And I'm pretty sure I ate all of it.

Almost three hours had passed and this had become such a highlight to my weekend, I didn't care how large my bill was (plus I had a whole bottle of Chianti in me- nothing could upset me). I approached my waitress on my way back from the restroom to ask for the check. She told me not to worry about a thing. What? Nothing?! Not even the pizza??? I couldn't believe the hospitality. I got a chance to go back to Melbourne later in the year and brought a friend with me so I had someone with whom to share the amazing food, atmosphere, and people.

Salute... mate!

Where has the time gone?!

This seems to be the theme of my life at the moment.

1. My last blog post was over a week ago! Apologies (to whoever reads this thing aka Dad). Sometimes life gets crazy, no? I'm not complaining. I actually had somewhat of a social life last weekend...

Friday I spent all day shopping and crafting with college roommate Coco in preparation of my first Bay-to-Breakers experience (more on this later). It's been a while since I've made costumes (since Australia is not as into theme parties and Halloween- what I live for), so it was very fun, but also stressful due to the time crunch. This was reminiscent of my college years- costumes, procrastination, spending way too much money with Cokes. (PS. I just realized college was THREE years ago! What?! Seriously, when/how did that happen?)

It was my aunt's birthday so some family came up and we spent all of Saturday wine-tasting in Napa Valley. This was another exciting first for me. I had only been to Napa a couple times prior, but this was my first tasting there. For a lover of wine, I was in heaven at this event at the Napa Wine Company which featured hundreds of wines and amazing food to complement. I don't even want to think about how many glasses I probably ended up having. That evening I caught a ferry into the city to meet Lindsey at her Team-in-Training fundraiser. But went to bed early so I could wake up at 5:30am... to drink! (I didn't even do this for Picnic Day.)

Coco picked me up before 6am with the top of her friend's BMW convertible down and the music blasting (thank goodness for seat warmers). We go to her friend's place and start to get festive in our "party animal" costumes we worked so hard on. We got some bagels in our bellies to anchor the alcohol we were about to consume. I had two tequila shots by 7:30am. Oh man...

We filled up our 2 liter water bottles with "skip-n-go nakeds" (amazing combo of vodka, lemonade, and beer) and headed to Washington Square Park to meet the 160 "partymelons" and start the long B2B walk... You can probably guess how the rest of the day went. Needless to say, it was a great first B2B for me. :) But I think I'll lay off the booze for a little while...

2. I have a very intimate relationship with my computer. We have so much fun, time seems to just fly by when we're together...

Despite my recent lack of blogging, I am actually ALWAYS on my computer (when I'm not frolicking the streets of San Francisco in a kangaroo outfit). I have become OBSESSED with social media sites, travel blogs, start-ups, etc. I can't get enough. I flip open my macbook, and it's not just facebook I catch up on anymore, but twitter, StumbleUpon, the blogs I subscribe to, plus anywhere these sites take me. Turns out there is a whole other world outside of facebook! Crazy. And all of a sudden, it's five hours later and I've outlasted some of the Starbucks employees' shifts.

Don't worry, I am fulfilling a cause. I am actively networking and promoting Tripping. It's amazing how much you can do with social media nowadays. (I'm just hoping I will get paid for it someday.) I have also had a couple of meetings with the CEO of Tripping and she has given me even more ideas on ways I can spend quality time with my laptop. The love affair continues...

3. Umm, I'm 25 in three weeks?! W.T.F.

It's been my plan for over a year now that I would celebrate my 25th birthday in Vegas with my girlfriends. For one, it seems to be a good setting to deal with the "quarter-life crisis," but the main reason is that I've never been! And I think I might be the only one. I've been struggling with the mixed emotions about getting older; late-twenties is a big deal! I go back and forth with how and who I'm supposed to be at this point in my life. I'm still young, but getting past that point when "Vegas behavior" is acceptable. But that's the beauty of Vegas- in Vegas, nothing matters. And if I had a choice, I'd want my turning 25 to stay in Vegas.

But whoa. It's coming up! I have been so caught up in my relationship with my computer, that I've neglected my Vegas planning! This will hopefully be remedied tomorrow when I meet with Lindsey, my planning hero.

4. My blog posts always end up longer than intended, and thus, take a lot of time to write! Thanks for taking the time to read them. :)