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Archive for the ‘Byron Bay’ Category

I’ve worked abroad a few times. Just like most people who do it, I seek labour to help me fund the rest of my traveling – hostels, food, drink, transport, and everything else in between. It can add up to be a pretty big bill.

I’ve taught English, handed out flyers on the street and sold promotion packages. Soon (fingers crossed…) I’ll either be employed in a bar, or on a farm.

To work, officially, you need a work visa. But there are PLENTY of places who will overlook this small detail. In fact, of the three jobs abroad I have held up until now, only one required any proof that I was legally eligible to work. One. The others? They’ve decided to take the calculated risk, which of course means that you do too.

Thailand

My Thai working visa was organised through a company called CIEE – the people who also found my teaching placement. I paid them a fee (which I found to be very reasonable) which covered all the costs of my visa, plus a great deal more, and it took away the headache of going through all the paperwork myself. Not bad. Because CIEE handled my paperwork, I don’t know much about obtaining a working visa for Thailand. What I understand is that you must first have a non-immigrant visa on your passport. Then to obtain a work permit, it seems that you must have a job lined up with an employer who will in effect ‘sponsor’ you and provide a contract with your job description and the dates that you will be employed.

In Thailand, my English teaching job was very official. I filled in any number of forms, got a fancy stamp in my passport, got a whole new booklet (my work permit) that looked a lot like another passport and signed a document every month when I received my salary.

We never came across any real problems, and I received my salary in cash which made things a lot simpler. The only hiccup was that my original contract ended on the last day of school. Of course it would; why not, right? The problem? Once my contract was over, I was no loner authorised to stay in the country and would have to either leave, or at least do a quick hop over the border to get a new entry visa as a tourist. The issue: it would mean missing the last week of school to get to the border and back. Luckily, we were able to have our contracts extended as long as the other teachers and I promised not to demand a salary for the extra month which, in theory, we could probably have done.

After teaching, and a couple of months of traveling through Laos and Cambodia, I was back in Thailand and looking for ways to save my dwindling pile of money. Now, of course, I had no valid work permit and nor did my traveling friend. So what did we do? We landed on Koh Phi Phi and quickly became one of the many travelers you see there handing out flyers for the various bars, advertising free buckets (of alcohol), free barbeques, Thai boxing, and any number of incentives to drive traffic. We were paid in cash at the end of each night, no questions asked. The problem is, the island had a slight run-in with the law and, as a result, the police (usually bribed to look the other way) took our photos and shut the bars down early. Luckily that was the worst that happened. I still got paid.

In theory, you are taking the risk of getting in trouble if you do this. But in my own experience and from what I’ve seen, the benefit outweighs the risk. It’s more often the company (i.e. the bar that hired me) that deal with the problems. The police know that you’re going to be gone soon anyway. Spending time getting you in trouble is rarely worthwhile for them.

Australia

Now I’m spending time in Australia, and again looking for ways to support myself and enable my traveling.

Before I arrived here, I obtained a Working Holiday Visa which was incredibly easy. Australia does all of their visas online, which means no need to send your passport anywhere. All I did was apply online, make a quick appointment at the doctors for a chest x-ray, and presto – a visa confirmation in my Gmail inbox. Simple as that.

Unlike the Thai visa, I didn’t have to have a job lined up for me. The Working Holiday Visa allows you to seek any kind of work after you have entered the country for up to six months at a time. Much easier.

When I first came here back in May, I stopped in Byron Bay for about a week. While I didn’t work there, I became good friends with quite a few people who did. Everyone I met worked in the hostel where I had a bed – Aquarius Backpackers. I don’t think that their work required a Working Holiday Visa, although most of them had one and often held a second job in bars and offices in the town. I would strongly recommend looking for hostel work to anyone traveling around Oz. It doesn’t require much work (at Aquarius, it was two hours a day) and your pay is in the form of free accommodation. It’s perfect if you’re running low on money and looking for ways to ease the pain. With free accommodation, you’re saving anywhere from $20 – $40/night. That’s pretty good if you ask me!

For the last month in Sydney I worked for Redhot PR, selling promotional packages for Sydney’s top hair salons on the street, in shopping centres, on the beach. Just about anywhere. The pros: they also promote bars and big events, which meant free club entry, and free tickets to things like the Space Ibiza party I went to on New Years Day. They also sent me to Melbourne for a week to work, paying for my flight and accommodation. Plus, every Friday they provided drinks and a small party in the office before we headed out for the night. They certainly piled on the added bonuses.

The cons: technically we were not allowed to sell inside shopping centres, the airport, or anywhere else, which meant spending the day dodging security guards and occasionally getting kicked out. There was no hourly wage, which meant all of my income was commission based. This could be seen as a good thing, as it meant your potential salary is completely unlimited. The difficulty is, if you’re having a rough day, you’re not on your game – you come home with nothing. A lot of people are fantastic at this job. Myself – I had a great start, but I quickly got worn down and eventually it became impossible for me to stay. You’ll find, in Sydney at least, that there are a LOT of jobs like this. My advice – give it a go, and try to stick it out for one week. If, by then, you don’t see the potential, at least you tried, but a week should be enough time for you to see whether you have what it takes.

Next on my list is either bar work or farm work, so we’ll see how it goes!

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I’ve had some issues with Internet connectivity lately so here goes the very delayed last entry to my traveling blog. Since I left Australia I was back in London for two weeks, doing some work for a quick bank account boost, and I’m currently in the States visiting friends and family for a few weeks.

Here it goes:
So after leaving Sydney I headed up to Byron Bay with the Wills. We got off the bus after what ended up being a pretty sleepless night for me and arrived to several backpacker staff with their vans trying to draw us to their hostels. It worked; Will, Will and I were too tired to do any deciding ourselves, so we followed a blond Canadian named Eric to his van and he took us to Aquarius hostel.
We checked in to the nicest dorm I’ve ever stayed in and picked beds on the top floor of our duplex style room where we met Katie, another Canadian who had also just arrived.
Our first day in Byron was spent watching the rain POUR down like I’ve never seen before. We realized that this may go on, so we found out about bus trips to a place called Nimbin – a hippie town that hasn’t moved on since about 1968. We took a very psychedelic bus tour to the town listening to Pink Floyd, The Doors and other ‘free love’ bands to arrive in a multi-coloured tie-dye town. Walking down the main street was an exercise in turning down one offer after another for weed, brownies, more weed, cookies…you get the idea. I took a tour of the Nimbin Museum whose design concept was something along the lines of ‘here’s some stuff I found on the street/at the flea market/in my cellar.’ There was stuff EVERYWHERE, and none of it seemed to make any sort of sense. Hippie heaven. At the end, before exiting, we met a 50-something year old woman rushing off yelling “just wait 15 minutes guys, I’ll be back with the cookies soon, I just have to pick them up from my house.” This wasn’t just a nice lady who baked things for visitors. She made her money making tourists feel like they were on a Grateful Dead tour, or a character in Ken Kesey’s acid charged life. On the way home our bus driver pointed out all the ‘beautiful shades of green’ in the countryside and took us through the mud back to our Byron home. Where it was still raining.
Unfortunately the rain continued so after meeting the backpacker staff and we spent our nights exploring Byron Bay nightlife with them and spending most of our days watching the rain come down with two days of sun that we spent on the beach and walking to the lighthouse – the Easternmost point of mainland Australia.
After a few days I decided I needed to make a move up north if I wanted to see more of the country. One problem. All that rain? Causes problems. Like flooding. In both directions.
Nobody, myself included, could get in or (more importantly) OUT of Byron for a few days.
I embraced my fate and paid at the reception for more nights at Aquarius. At least I could hang out here with people I liked, and I got free dinner every night, even if it was the same stuff over and over again… free is free. Plus we entertained ourselves with pub quiz nights and poker tournaments.
For all the less-than-ideal weather, I had an amazing time in Byron Bay thanks to the Wills, Katie and the Aquarius staff. After deciding that it was time for me to leave I realized that my time was now quite short, so instead of heading up north I headed back to Sydney and the twins. Since the highway was still flooded I took a flight from the small airport inland that was still accessible down to Sydney airport where Joh met me to take me back to another few days of home comforts. Mike and Lisa were still around so I spent my last few days seeing them, taking a day trip to the Blue Mountains, and going to the Sydney Aquarium where I saw a platypus! They’d been hiding when we went to the Sydney Zoo in my first week, so I was glad to check off that last Australian animal from my list after kangaroo, wallaby and koala among others.
I also cooked a meal for Nad, Sal, Joh and Lisa that went down well, I think?
I loved Australia, a sentiment perhaps not expressed well enough in this shortened version of my time there, but I have decided to save up as quickly as possible for a return trip on a one year work-holiday visa.
So that’s it! I took a flight from Sydney back to Bangkok where I spent a day doing some last minute shopping and sharing my stories with new travelers experiencing their first nights abroad on Koh San Road. Then it was back to the airport to travel back to London and home.
Seven and a half months later, a term of teaching and an amazing backpacker experience through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and finally Australia and I’m back where I started. Back in the Foster home in Crouch End, London. Dreaming of my next adventure.
I’ve had a great time writing this blog and plan on setting up a more permanent URL to continue life as a blogger, so watch this space for a final update and a name URL address.
Thanks for reading, commenting, and sending me all those great letters and packages. I write for you. 🙂
“The world is a book and those who do not travel only read one page.” – St Augustine.

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I arrived at Bangkok airport on May 12 to find out that my parents lovely next door neighbor, Betsy, had managed to get me upgraded on my British Airways flight to Sydney! So I went from being a poor backpacker living in dirty guesthouses to walking in to the Business Class lounge with all the other richer travelers. I felt slightly out of place with my clothes that I’d been wearing for the last week of partying and my bare feet, but hey, they still let me in!

After a long flight where I watched Milk, Happy Go Lucky, The Reader and Frost/Nixon in the World Traveler Plus section of my Bangkok to Sydney plane I arrived in this strange place, where people spoke English, and signs were in English, and people weren’t bowing to greet each other….I didn’t know what to do. I decided to put my sandals on since I was now the only barefoot person in the place, and it was FREEZING!!! Okay, not freezing maybe, but that’s how it felt after months of wallowing around in oppressive heat.
I got through immigration, found my backpack and went through the crazy strict Australian quarantine to wait to be met by a complete stranger, a friend of my godfather’s who I knew very little about. After a few minutes I was met by two identical twins, Nad and Sal who took me in a real car! It wasn’t a tuk tuk, or a songthaew, or a Bangkok taxi or anything. A REAL car! Weird.
Then they drove me back to a real house! Where I met Joh, Nad’s girlfriend, and India, they’re lovable Golden Labrador. It was all very….normal. I haven’t had normal since I left London back in mid-October, so it was all quite a shock. I napped in a double bed with a duvet and everything! Then when I got up, I watched TV on this HUGE widescreen and was reminded of the joys of cable.
After that, Sal took me to a mall! Like the ones I go to in the States, with a food court and everything, where I was overwhelmed by choices of food and I found myself wanting ANYTHING but Thai food! There was a Thai stand, but I was surprised to find how little I wanted to go near it. However, to ease myself in to all this normal food, I did have an Indian curry. Baby steps.
After my re-introduction to the Western way of life, Joh took me on a quick driving tour of Sydney where the sight of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House really made me realize where I was. Australia!! We met Nad for a drink and some dinner at the Opera House bar sitting outside under a heat lamp with the lights of the Harbour Bridge behind us. Not bad.
I spent the next few days seeing some of the sights with Will and Will, my friends from Koh Pha Ngan, my good friend Lisa from my days as a Thai English teacher who now works as a nanny here in Oz, and Mike, an Irish guy who I ran in to several times on my travels through Laos and Cambodia, now living and working in Oz himself on a one year visa.
I had lunch with Nad and Sal in Darling Harbour, where I also watched fireworks on jet skis with Mike and some friends. I went to The Rocks market with Lisa after an AMAZING buffet lunch with her in the revolving restaurant in the Sydney Tower where I was able to look over all of the city on a perfectly clear day. Oh yea, and I ate barbequed kangaroo. Never thought I’d say THAT sentence. I saw Manly Beach and the surrounding area with Nad and Joh, and went to the Taronga Zoo with the Wills.
I also experienced nightlife being back in a city. My first night out was with the Wills. I hadn’t quite adjusted to wearing shoes at that point, and I in fact didn’t really own any except some unimpressive sandals. My friend Bella had given me her sandals that were slightly nicer, so I wore those but since they were the closest thing to shoes I’d worn in quite some time they immediately started to hurt. I carried them around, putting them on to get in the door of bars and then promptly taking them off again. I got some looks for walking around Sydney barefoot, but not much I was going to do about it. I bought a pair of nice warm suede boots the next day, don’t worry.
After about a week of this city life, I joined the Wills on an overnight bus up north to Byron Bay. I planned to go there for a few days then head up to try to see Frasier Island, the Whitsundays and whatever else I had time for. My plans changed slightly once we got there thanks to Mother Nature, but that’s a story for my next entry!

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