Welcome to Travel Diaries, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real women embark on trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.
This week’s travel diary: A 29-year-old waitress shares a week in her year-long solo trip to Brisbane, Australia on a holiday work visa.
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Salary: about $32,000 prior to trip (earned about $1,300 waitressing on work holiday visa)
Hometown: Austin, TX
Trip Location: Australia
Trip Length: 1 year
Annual Number Of Vacation Days: n/a
Costs : Flight into Melbourne in November 2018. Worked in Melbourne for 5 months, flew to Gold Coast, Australia then took a bus to Byron Bay, then to Brisbane. Flew to Airlie Beach for a sailing trip and then back to Brisbane. The following diary will document one week in Brisbane.
Flight: from Airlie Beach to Brisbane: $43.00 (plus $43 for baggage)
Hostel: $17.93 per night (this diary covers the first six nights)
I have already been traveling in Melbourne for 5 months so I had no new expenses. Prior to Melbourne I spent approximately $250 on the following:
– Travel towel
– Kindle and extra memory card
– Extra charging cables
– Travel clothes line
– Collapsible water bottle (Hydaway)
– Toiletries: (all travel sizes) Dr. Bronner’s soap, toothpaste, sunscreen, Febreeze, body lotion, toothbrush cap, folding hair brush, loofah, floss, deodorant
7:30 p.m. – I land in Brisbane airport after a short flight from Airlie Beach. Pick up my bag from baggage claim and walk to the air train, which has several drop-off points between the airport and the city center. My hostel offers free shuttles from some of these pick up points but I miss the last one by 30 minutes.
I get an air train ticket to South Bank, the closest stop to my hostel ($13.62). After a short train ride, I’m in South Bank. My hostel is only a 20-minute walk and I could do it, but I’m lazy and I really want a shower so I call an Uber ($5.37). $19.07
8:30 p.m. – I arrive at my hostel, check in and pay and find my room: A cozy 6-bed dorm with a private bathroom and balcony. The hostel also has a pool, a large shared kitchen with a huge veranda, a TV and game room, and free Wi-Fi that it strong enough to reach our dorm in the back (very, very rare in Australian hostels).
10:30 p.m. – I shower, smoke a cigarette on the balcony, and take advantage of the WiFi. This is the first time I’ve had WiFi strong enough to watch Netflix in 6 months. I can’t contain myself. The excitement clearly gets to me because I pass out watching Queer Eye.
Daily Total: $19.07
9 a.m. – I wake up and briefly chat with my roommates who are also awake: A guy from Australia and a guy from Colombia. They are both working and heading out for the day. I’m on a budget this week before a solo trip to New Zealand, so I have to get my groceries for the week.
10:00 a.m. (ish) – I stroll through the neighborhood to the Coles supermarket down the street. The hostel is located in Brisbane’s West End which is filled with cute shops, cafés, and restaurants. I do a bit of window-shopping on the way to the grocery store. Almost tempted by a passion fruit cupcake for breakfast but I decide to save it for another day this week.
12:00 p.m. – Arrive at the grocery store and check the items from my list: cereal, soy milk, bread, peanut butter, carrots, hummus, instant noodles, trail mix, bar of chocolate, a larger bottle of water to refill and keep by my bed. The total for all of these is $17.93 (25.00 AUD) (When is the total ever even?? I am impressed by this, the cashier did not share my excitement). $17.93
12:45 p.m. – I chill by the hostel pool with a book and a peanut butter sandwich.
8:00 p.m. – My roommate who I met down by the pool earlier made some curry for dinner. He offered me some and we share it on the balcony.
10:00 p.m. – I call my grandmother and go to sleep.
Daily Total: $17.93
10:00 a.m. – I wake up and have breakfast in the kitchen. Cereal and toast purchased from the day before.
12:00 p.m – I met up with a friend from the hostel and walked to Southbank. Southbank is an area along Brisbane’s waterfront with loads of public gardens, a Ferris wheel, swimming lagoon, restaurants, parks and a bar. Today is hot and we head straight for the lagoon to sunbathe and swim.
4:00 p.m. – Hunger sets in and we walk back to the hostel to make some food. We are both trying to save money this week and as tempting as the restaurants on Southbank are we decide to save some coins and cook the food we have. She had all the ingredients for burgers except bread, I had bread. Burgers for a late lunch/early dinner.
7:00 p.m. – I’m playing some music with other people in the hostel. A few beers and a few smokes. Someone was handing out the beers (thank you generous backpackers!). I ran to the corner store to get cigarette papers. $0.75
Daily Total: $0.75
9:30 a.m. – I wake up with the room to myself, which is rare in a hostel so I take the opportunity to do some yoga to a YouTube video. Afterwards, I head to the kitchen to make breakfast. Cereal and toast.
11:00 a.m. – It’s nice out today so I head to the botanical gardens. It’s about a 30-minute walk from my hostel along the South Bank area and over a pedestrian bridge. The bridge leads you to the beginning of the gardens along the river. I walk around for a while listening to music and some podcasts.
4:30 p.m. – I’m walking on the way back from the botanical gardens along South Bank, I chose a different route from before and end up in an area with restaurants. I stopped at Burger Urge for a small-sized chicken sandwich. $4.90
5:00 p.m. – Spent some time checking emails, FaceTiming friends from home as well as friends in Australia who I’ve met along the way.
8:00 p.m. – After some long-overdue FaceTime calls to friends back home and another episode of Queer Eye, I head to the kitchen to make dinner. At the table I meet someone selling weed (finally!) we head to the parking lot and I buy an eighth. $35.86
10:30 p.m. – After a few glasses of wine courtesy of another traveler I had met a few days before, we roll a joint and smoke it on the balcony of my room. Which is where I am currently sitting writing this down so I don’t forget.
Daily Total: $40.76
8:30 a.m. – Up early for a job interview in Fortitude Valley. I’m on the fence for how long I want to stay in Brisbane, but I figure an interview won’t hurt. It’s for a typical backpacker job, direct sales disguised as marketing. Basically, they list the role as a marketing position and then once you’re hired, you realize you are standing in the street or in malls asking people if they want to sign up for Hello Fresh or a charity, or solar panels. I had one of these jobs in Melbourne for a week, so I know it’s not exactly for me, but if I can work for a few day in Brisbane it wouldn’t hurt. I woke up a little late so had to catch an Uber to make the appointment. $9.58
9:00 a.m. – The interview is a group interview. We all fill out forms in the beginning with various ranging from our work experience, to our favorite celebrity. A lot of these jobs are more about your personality than your experience so it’s pretty typical for the interviews to go like this. They explain that there will be two more rounds of interviews tomorrow and we should expect a call by 4pm today with the details if we are selected to move forward.
10:30 a.m. – After the interview I stroll around the area for a bit. There is clearly an active night life around here, but at 10:30 a.m. most places were still closed.
11:00 a.m. – I head back to hostel via a walk along the South Bank, such a lovely area of the city.
1:00 p.m. – Today is just one of those days where I can’t seem to find the energy to do anything. When you’re traveling for 6 months, sometimes you just need a lazy day. I always feel bad on days like this, like I’m wasting a precious day in my trip, but for long-term travel such as this you have to remind yourself that every day is not going to be the best day of your life. I chill in my room reading, drifting in and out of sleep.
6:30 p.m. – The hostel is having a free BBQ tonight so I head down. It’s a typical Aussie BBQ: sausages, grilled onions, bread, and ketchup. I have two and take a seat with some familiar faces around the hostel. A German guy from the room next to mine offers me a beer, saying “a BBQ without beer is like a sky without stars.” Can’t argue that logic.
10:00 p.m. – The hostel staff are shutting down the outside areas so the neighbors don’t complain and I decide to head up to sleep. I’m not particularly tired but I also can’t afford to go out to some of the bars down the street in the West End, which is where the others are going.
Daily total: $9.58
11:00 a.m. – I wake up a little later than usual after binge-watching a horrible Australian reality TV show called Yummy Mummy’s ‘til 4:00 a.m. Wake up and head down for breakfast in the hostel kitchen. There is a church down the street that does a good drive every week and someone picked up a box of produce and left it in the hostel kitchen. Backpackers are actual angels. This morning I have peanut butter toast with bananas and three small oranges. I also pick up a frozen meal to eat later.
12:00 p.m. – It might rain today so I figure it’s a great time to check out the art museums along South Bank. There is a traditional art gallery, a science museum and a contemporary art museum and they are all free. Every city in Melbourne has multiple free museums and it’s one of my favorite things about this country.
5:00 p.m. – After a day of wandering both art museums (the science one had too many toddlers running around for my liking), I head across the river to the shopping area on Queens Street. This is a large outdoor mall with stores at every price point. I’m heading to New Zealand next week and I know it will be colder so I stop by H&M to pick up some socks ($6.45). They’re also having a buy one, get one free sale so I get a romper ($4.30) and a t-shirt (free).
6:30 p.m. – Walk back to the hostel, stop at Seven Eleven along the way and pick up a sausage roll, an Aussie staple, basically a sausage wrapped in puff pastry. $1.43
7:00 p.m. – I arrive back at the hostel. Get changed. Read a little bit.
9:00 p.m. – I’m getting a little hungry/bored so I head down to the kitchen area. I find my friends from the night before sitting at large picnic table and join them. I’m offered a glass of red wine and I happily oblige. Within 15 minutes, one of them emerges from the kitchen with a giant pot of spaghetti Bolognese. I’ll never say no to free food, especially pasta made by a cute Italian guy, so I grab a plate and fill up.
11:00 p.m. – After the meal we all do our dishes and return to the table to chat, listen to music, and smoke. Around 11:00 p.m. the hostel staff asks us to leave the outdoor common areas, as they are being closed for the night. We head to the park on the corner of the street to smoke a joint before going to bed.
Daily Total: $12.18
How did you prepare for this trip?
I first learned about the working holiday visa on my first trip to Australia 3 years ago. This visa allows Americans age 18-30 to work and travel in Australia for 1 year. I found a lot of information about how to prepare for this trip, as well as itineraries for cities, packing guides, and other helpful tips for long term travel from Pinterest.
This blog in particular laid out a lot of useful step-by-step guides for the whole process. It was written a while ago, but the process is the same, with the only changes mainly being the price of the visa.
This is also the Australian government’s page for the working holiday visa with all up to date requirements, prices, and data.
I knew the visa requires proof of $5,000 AUD (roughly $3,600 USD) to enter the country and get started, but I wanted a bit more of a cushion. My savings goal was $5,000 USD in my account when I arrived in Melbourne. To reach this goal, I got an additional full time job (the temp job listed above in addition to my full-time job as a waitress) and started working from 7:00 a.m. to midnight, 4 days a week and double-shifts on weekends. It took me roughly 9 months to save, as I had to move from Austin to Philadelphia during that time, which chipped into my savings. I spent about 1.5 months in Philadelphia before I left for Australia. I lived at my parents’ house during that time and worked 3 part-time jobs in the service industry to get the last little amount saved.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
The South Bank area is amazing and a must-see for everyone who comes to Brisbane. There’s a swimming lagoon, Ferris wheel, museums, theaters, shops, parks, pagodas, cafés, etc. You can easily spend several days just coming back to this area. Everything (except shops and cafes obviously) is free and open to the public all day and into the night.
Would you stay at your hostel again?
Yes! This hostel was comfy, chill, had good amenities, and was close enough I could walk around the city easily. If you haven’t stayed at a hostel before I really recommend it. It’s a great way to save on costs, meet new people, and have a unique experience.
Where were you located in the specific city and would you recommend staying in that part of town?
West End is adorable and I would definitely recommend this area. It’s really cute and located close enough to the city center to be walkable but far enough removed to offer a more relaxing and chilled vibe. Plus there are loads of cute shops, bars and restaurants.
Is there anything you wished you had time to do, but didn’t?
I was really on a budget this week so unfortunately, I didn’t get to try a lot of the restaurants I wanted to.
Do you feel like you were there for the right length of time?
For backpackers on working holiday visas, Brisbane seems like a great place to settle down for a bit and find work. If I wasn’t traveling on to New Zealand, I would consider doing that and extending my stay. However, for the average tourist just passing through I think 6 days is more than enough time to see what Brisbane has to offer.
Travel Diaries is meant to reflect individual women’s experiences and does not necessarily reflect Refinery29’s point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior.
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