Posts Tagged ‘Australia’


Summer 2011 Is Coming! Work and Travel Around Australia

February 5, 2011

Australia and New Zealand are just two of the fabulous destinations yuo can choose from with SWAP.

Whatcha doin’ this summer? How about working and travelling your way around (the hopefully unflooded and headed into recovery) Australia?

If you’re a Canadian between the ages of 18 and 30, you can apply for a working holidaymaker visa to a few different countries, including Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. (For Ireland and New Zealand, you can apply up to age 35.)

A working holiday visa allows you to live and work in a country, just like a local, usually for up to a year. Instead of living in hostels and tour buses, you’ll have a chance to settle in, get to know your neighbors, and develop a deeper understanding of a place.

There are no bad destinations, but for now let’s concentrate on Australia. It’s beautiful, slightly exotic, has great weather, friendly people, plenty of opportunities for adventure and is more affordable than some European destinations.

You’ll be working and earning some money, which is a responsible thing to do, and you might even find a job that will give you experience that can be applied to a future career. You’ll also be in a country full of backpackers who are looking to have a good time. It’s the best of both worlds, really.

If you’re ready to apply, or if you have some questions about working holidays, visit


Best Travel Wishes for 2011!

December 30, 2010

Australian sunset“There are times I am bewildered by each mile I have travelled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.”

– Jhumpa Lahiri, “The Third and Final Continent”

May you enjoy travel beyond your imagination in 2011. Thanks for reading and sharing your travel tales and tips this year. Keep coming back for more in the new year.



How to Stay in a Hostel: Tips for the Uninitiated

July 13, 2010
How about staying in a boat/hostel for a few nights? Try the Eastern Comfort hostel in Berlin.

How about staying in a boat/hostel for a few nights? Try the Eastern Comfort hostel in Berlin.

If you’re headed out of town for a short-term stay, say two weeks or less, a hostel is an ideal place to crash. There are plenty of other travellers to socialize with, generally clean restrooms, a kitchen for preparing your own cheap meals, and sometimes they offer perks like television, free Internet access, laundry or sightseeing discounts.

In a large city you’ll likely have a dozen or more hostels to choose from, ranging from huge hotel-like structures with their own bars and restaurants, to the smaller, mom-and-pop places that may not offer as many amenities, or even hot water. In smaller locations, say deep in the Australian outback or in out-of-the-way South American villages, your choices will be more limited, but not necessarily less comfortable. One of the nicest hostels I’ve ever come across is the Prarie Hotel in Parachilna, South Australia; population: 7.

Your best bet for finding a good hostel is to ask other backpackers for recommendations. If you don’t have time though, go through Hostelling International, as they only give their seal of approval to places that meet their standards. (Although those standards do seem to vary here and there.)

You need to have a HI card to get a discounted price, but if you’re going to be traveling for more than three weeks during a year, it will pay for itself in discounts. You can pick one up at any Travel CUTS shop, or online. The HI website has a list of hostels by city, so you can get addresses and plan ahead. There are other discount cards for other chains, like VIP Backpackers, so you do have options.

When packing for your hostel stay, there are a few essentials:

  • Plastic bags, both big and small, are perfect for packing any shower items that might drip or leak, as well as dirty clothes, muddy shoes or snacks.
  • Flip flops make great shower shoes (as in going to and from, or during if the floor’s too creepy).
  • Most hostels give you bed linens, or let you rent them for a few dollars, but it can’t hurt to bring along a simple sheet. Check your local thrift store and get something you won’t mind throwing out before you return home. You can sew the sides of the sheet together to make a sleeping bag out of it, or leave it in tact to use at the beach, out camping, or on a bus or train ride.
  • A small flashlight is ideal for late-night trips to the bathroom. Try to find one of those small things that attaches to a keychain.
  • Finally, a clothesline is compact and can be hung just about anywhere so that you can handwash and dry clothes.

When choosing a place to stay, also remember that you have the right to look a hostel over and see a room before you hand over any money. If you walk into a place that feels sketchy or makes you uncomfortable, walk back out and look for something else.

The hostel culture is perfect for travelers who can eat, sleep, and shower anywhere. But even if you’re not sure that sounds like you, give it a try for a few nights. It’s laid-back, friendly, and you’ll meet people and have experiences that you’ll remember forever. You’ll probably get some great stories out of it too, so share the best, and worst, of what you find.


More Australian Adventures: Merrymaking in Melbourne

May 12, 2010

Melbourne trainsOn the surface, Melbourne and Sydney are a lot alike. They’re both coastal cities with the two largest populations in Australia. Both have Chinatowns and huge markets and good nightlife and nearby beach getaways that are popular with locals and tourists.

But Melbourne and Sydney do have their differences. Melbourne is smaller, more quaint, and has a sort of cozy, cultured feel about it. There are crazy works of public art all over, and even the streetlights and utility boxes are painted with bright murals and patterns to liven things up. Sydney isn’t exactly a huge metropolis, but it’s a hefty walk from one end to the other, whereas Mellie is more manageable, hence the NY/Boston comparison. And just like their American cousins, most people love one and hate the other. (Personally, I find New York much too big and overwhelming, but I love Sydney.)

Out of Time?
If you’re planning to drive Great Ocean Road or visit Grampians National Park, Melbourne is worth a stop. I only had three days there, but could have easily filled a week with all the things I didn’t get to do.

Stuff to Do
Spend your way through the Queen Victoria Market. It’s a huge outdoor flea market, produce market, and souvenir extravaganza all in one; Much like Paddy’s Market in Sydney, but bigger and with some better deals. Besides the usual t-shirts, stuffed kangaroos and koalas, and postcards, you’ll also find custom car seat covers, shoes, kitchen supplies, beauty products, slicers and dicers, watches, jewellery, sports jerseys for your favorite footy and AFL teams, and live chickens and ducks in the produce area. The booths tend to repeat themselves, so don’t rush into buying something the first time you see it.

Stroll the Treasury and Fitzroy Gardens. This is a beautiful place to go on a sunny day for a picnic, some aimless meandering, and relaxation. Don’t try to powerwalk here, it just won’t work. Be sure to see the Fairy Tree and the Model Tudor Village, both located right next to the Pavillion Café. The fountains are also worth a look, and make good picture spots, and there’s a small trail that goes down the middle of the park that almost makes you feel at one with nature. If you want something historic, go by Cook’s Cottage. It once belonged to Captain James Cook’s parents and was brought over from England in pieces and reassembled. Cost is reduced with a student ID.

Melbourne aquariumHit the Melbourne Aquarium. There’s a coral reef, rock pools, a fish bowl, and a spot where you can watch the fish swim right over you. Also included with your ticket is a motion simulator ride. Don’t eat before you hop on. Admission is reduced with an ISIC or student ID. For a lot extra, you can arrange to go diving in the shark tank. Call ahead for that.

Get culture at the Melbourne Museum. Lots of European and Australian art and innovative type things are featured here. There’s also an IMAX theater next door if you want something less taxing. Check their website to see what exhibits will be on display during your visit.

Shop Bourke Street. Every kind of store you could possibly want, including a Target for your budget clothing and toiletry needs can be found here. This is also the place to find fast food, movie theaters, and street performers. On a good day you might get some activists too.

Ride the Free Tram. It’s high on my list of things to do on a budget that won’t tire out your feet. It runs along with the other trams, but it’s painted gold and burgundy and says “City Circle” on it. Hop on and enjoy a loop around town as the computer voice announces what attractions are located at each stop. It’s an easy and relaxing way to learn your way around.

Ramble along the Yarra River. Oh la la, it’s just like the Seine, except for being totally different. There are cafés and fountains and shops and things, though, so if you say a few “merci”s you might get into a European mood.

Munch at the Hard Rock Café. Not that you would want to go there, of course, being a real traveler and not a tourist, but if you have to bring a t-shirt home for someone, you may as well stop and have some of their excellent spinach dip. Drop in for Happy Hour and live music to meet locals and other backpackers.

Explore Melbourne’s backpacker bars. You should throw in a few local places as well, but if you’re looking to stretch your dollars out, backpacker bars offer some of the best deals for food and drink, and you never know who you’re going to meet. Try the Industry Bar and Lounge downstairs from the Nomad’s hostel on Beckett Street for live music, trivia contest, and dscount drinks. The Pint and Punt offers cheap backpacker meals and is located near the race course and the Grand Prix if you’re planning to take in some sport.

If you make it to St. Kilda, head to base Backpackers and The Red Eye Bar for karaoke, comedy, and ladies night specials.

Eat in Chinatown or the Greek Precinct. Melbourne has the largest Greek population in the southern hemisphere, and there are plenty of tasty restaurants to prove it. Walk along Lonsdale Street, between Swanston and Spring and see what smells good. Chinatown is just one block over, on Little Bourke Street.

Take a day tour of Phillip Island. There are penguins and other wildlife and swimming, and depending on which tour company you pick, you can get a barbeque and wine tasting thrown in. Ask at your hostel for recommendations.

Tour Great Ocean Road and Bell’s Beach. It’s along Great Ocean Road that you’ll see the Twelve Apostles. Never heard of them? They’re huge rocks poking out of the seashore that are pretty impressive, if you like nature stuff. You’ll see other breathtaking scenery along the way to Bell’s Beach, a surfing hotspot and filming location for Point Break. Whoa!

Melbourne’s Luna ParkTram it to St. Kilda. This is the seaside area where they used to film the popular Aussie show The Secret Life of Us, so you shouldn’t really need any other reason to go. If TV connections aren’t enough for you though, there are the rides and amusements of Luna Park, plenty of bars and cafes, sandy beaches, and it’s all just a short tram ride from downtown Melbourne. Plan to get a hostel room there and stay the night.


Canberra: Australia’s Capitol & A Place You Maybe Want to See

April 21, 2010
Canberra Waterjet

Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra

Not all travellers make a point of stopping in Canberra, even though it’s Australia”s capitol. It has a reputation for being dull – full of stuffy museums, old people and politicians. That’s not entirely untrue, but it’s not the whole picture.

There are enough museums in Canberra to keep you busy for two or three full days and they aren’t all covered in dust and spider webs. In facty, Canberra has some of the most beautiful and innovative museums that I found in Australia.

In terms of scenery, Lake Burley Griffin is a beautiful place for a picnic or bike ride and City Walk is ideal for afternoon coffee at an outdoor cafe or a little shopping. But the fun doesn’t stop there. Oh no.

Now, granted, during the three days I spent there I had the benefit of my own personal tour guide. Tim isn’t an official Canberra tour guide, (I met him at a friend’s party in Bondi), but he’s lived in the area for a few years, which is more than enough time to know where all the good sights are. He’s a cool guy to hang out with, as long as you don’t mind planning your sightseeing around his cricket schedule.

Getting around Canberra by yourself, assuming you can’t find a spunk of your own to play chauffeur, isn’t too difficult. Many places of interest are within walking distance of the CBD (central business district) and several bus routes cover the surrounding areas.  Check the ACTion website or go to a local information center for a map of routes.

Where to Stay

Stay at Tim’s house. He cooks and has a lovely selection of movies. If his guest room isn’t available though, you do have a few other options.

The Canberra YHA is supposedly one of the nicest in the country. It’s not in the most convenient location, but if you have a car or if you don’t mind a short bus ride from downtown it’s doable.

There are several other hostels and a smattering of B&B’s around town. I chose the Victor Lodge because it was recommended in Lonely Planet, but I’m not sure if LP actually saw the place before writing it up. The Lodge is located in the Kingston neighborhood, about a 20-minute walk to Parliament House. It was clean-ish but the rooms are less than comfortable, even for a cheap hostel. It’s just a short walk from the train station though, which is a bonus.

The Sights

Parliament House

One of the best reasons to go to Canberra is that most of the things you’ll want to see and do there are free or very cheap. That means free places to sit and use a clean bathroom, something every budget traveller can appreciate. Donations are appreciated at some places, like the War Memorial and the National Museum, or you can drop a couple of dollars on postcards at the gift shops.

My first stop was Parliament House. Free tours start every half hour between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and last 50 minutes. If you don’t have the attention span for that then start your own tour outside and walk right up to the top of the building. Yes, it’s built into a hillside and you used to be able to have a picnic or just run and tumble all around it, but the hillside was blocked off as part of the capitol’s anti-terrorist program in 2005.

Stop by the Queen’s Terrace Cafe for a view of, well, trees and grass, since that’s most of what Canberra is, and get some of their yummy fries too.

Walking out of Parliament House you can walk straight ahead to Old Parliament House. There is an admission charge here, so if you aren’t up for more history, skip it and go across the street to the way cooler Aboriginal Tent Embassy. These two shacks have been here since 1972, although the Australian Government has never officially recognized them.

Aboriginal Tent Embassy

The National Gallery is a short walk from here and it’s another freebie. Exhibits range from African tribal art to Monets, Pissaros, Rothkos and Warhols. There’s even a Man Ray! Take that New York!

Around the CBD

For the downtown area of a world capitol, the few blocks of the CBD are fairly dry. There’s a shopping mall (with a really good food court) and a Target, but it’s still a very small town. There aren’t any skyscrapers, no roaming gangs of teenagers and not even a whole lot of graffiti.

Around the mall is City Walk, a pedestrian mall (every Australian city has one) with a series of bookshops, cafes, music stores, pubs, fancy restaurants, skateboarders and plenty of benches. It’s a pleasant place to sit and people watch while you’re sipping a smoothie and waiting for film to be developed.

If you’re tired of walking by now, bus 34 will take you from here downtown and on to the Botanic Gardens, but it only runs every half hour so keep a schedule handy.

From the CBD, bus #3 runs directly to the (very cool and very free) National Museum of Australia. Once there you’re treated to all the air-conditioning you can handle and a short introductory film in a revolving theater. I liked it. It’s a ride, but it’s a show, but you learn stuff too.

The museum was written up in all my guidebooks as being modern and innovative and breathtaking and it lived up to every word. You could spend half an hour just outside the museum, taking in its shape and colors and the huge map of the Northern Territory you can climb and run around on in the courtyard. Inside, the exhibits are big and bold and interactive and there’s so many things to look at and do I hardly knew where to look next. You can sit in a cave-like room and listen to Aboriginal fables and folklore, watch Vegemite commercials from the past 50 years, or study the heart of racehorse Phar Lap, preserved since his mysterious death in 1932. I had no idea horse hearts were so huge.

Australian War Memorial

The Australian War Memorial is a must-see and two of the bus lines go there. It looks simple, almost small from outside, but inside is room after room of artifacts, dioramas, planes, trucks, tanks and information about every major conflict the Australians have had a part in. The courtyard houses an eternal flame along with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and two walls of names of soldiers who died in battle.

My last official act as a tourist was to drive (ok, to look out the window as Tim did the driving, which is good since the whole left-side-of-the-road thing would be a disaster for me) past the row of embassies on Adelaide Avenue. Some look like regular homes or office buildings but others are works of art. The Chinese embassy is highly decorated and well maintained, the U.S. embassy could be a mansion from a southern plantation and the High Commission of Papua New Guinea was built as a Haus Tamberan, or Spirit House. This one is a Tim Tour special, as it so happens he grew up in PNG and speaks Pidgin English. Did you even know it was a real language or that they spoke it there? Liar.

We went in and chatted with the ambassador’s assistant (well, they Pigeoned, I smiled and nodded and thought about doing the Bert and Ernie p-p-pigeon dance) then took a peek at all the masks and instruments and other artifacts on display in the visitor’s center. All beautiful stuff.


Well, it’s Canberra. So if you can find a VCR or DVD player, that’s a pretty good plan for an exciting evening. If you’re still riding high from nights out in Sydney or Mellie then try one of these “hot spots” around town.

In the CBD you’ll find several pubs and bars, an art house movie theater and a few decent restaurants. If you want cheap, the Pancake Parlor is nearby and that’s where Tim the Tour Guide took me on my second night for a meal that put IHOP to shame.

The Monuka area has a variety of restaurants: Thai, Indian, Italian, Australian (roo burgers and lamb’s brains) and another art house theater. It’s an up-and-coming kind of area with lots of young people sitting outside sipping margaritas and martinis, enjoying the last hours of sunlight.

If you want to keep up the sightseeing after the sun goes down, head to Mt. Ainslie.  During the day you can see all of the big landmarks, but at night the stars look close enough to touch from the lookout and the roos come out to play.

The Telstra Tower is another lookout point. It’s a crazy alien-esque structure that you can see from most places in town. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it take off on a mission to Mars, straight out of the hillside.

Canberra Quick Links:


Places I Missed, But You Shouldn’t:


Find Part-Time Work in Australia

April 7, 2010

Australia and New Zealand are just two of the fabulous destinations you can choose from with SWAP.

If you’re going to study in Australia, or if you’re going on a working holiday visa, then you’re going to need to find a decent job once you get there. Where to look?

Universities: Most universities have a job placement centre that has listings of available positions. You might also get help through whatever office assists international students.

Hostels: For really temporary work, maybe a few days at a time, check bulletin boards at hostels. They’re a great resource in cities and more rural areas alike, especially if you’re looking for seasonal work doing fruit picking or other labour.

Windows: Found an area of town you like? Job hunt the old fashioned way and look for help wanted signs in shops, cafes or whatever interests you.

The Internet: While most job sites online are geared toward people looking for full-time, long-term work, there are some that list temp positions. Or if there’s a specific place you’d like to work – a museum, theatre, sporting arena – check their website directly to see if they’re hiring.

Temp agencies: If you can type pretty well, answer phones, run errands and prefer to work in an office environment, sign up with a temp agency or two. Julia Ross is one of the largest agencies, but there are plenty to choose from.

Consider interning or volunteering: No, it doesn’t pay cash, but it could give you some great experience. Check out to see what kind of opportunities are available.

No matter what kind of position you’re looking for, be ready to make a great first impression at an interview and have the following things ready to go:

  • Your tax file number (apply for a TFN as soon as you arrive) or the application receipt from the tax office that proves you’re getting one soon
  • Your Australian bank information to arrange for direct deposit (get an account when you arrive, too)
  • A paper copy of your resume
  • An electronic version of your resume, in case a recruiter wants it available to email to clients
  • A list of at least three references and their contact information, including email addresses for those further away than a local phone call
  • The results of any skill tests (typing, computer programs) you have taken at temp agencies

Dress as you would for any professional interview, even if you just want work as a telemarketer. The more responsible you look, the better your chances of getting steady work.

Good luck!


Study Abroad in Australia: Get an Education AND an Adventure

April 6, 2010

Sydney Opera House

Debating whether or not to study abroad? Well stop. I’m telling you now, you should do it. Case closed. You can thank me when you get back.

The Pros

Need more convincing? No worries. I’ve got a whole list of excellent reasons you should do a semester or year abroad in Australia:

1. It’s affordable, or at least a lot cheaper than living in England, which might be your other option. Food, rent and transportation are all reasonable and Australia is built for a backpacker culture that likes to travel for cheap.

2. You get to live in Australia! That means the Outback, the Great Barrier Reef, the Great Ocean Road and bunch of other sites are easily accessible before and after your course and during university holidays. You’ll have plenty of time to study, travel, and even work if you want to (up to 20 hours a week while classes are in session, unlimited hours during holidays).

3. There are no GRE’s in Australia. That’s right. If you’re looking to do a post-graduate program, the schools here aren’t concerned with standardized tests. All they want is proof that you graduated from a real college in Canada or the States, that you speak fluent English (if it isn’t your first language), and then usually a short statement about your work history and why you want to attend their school.

4. The schools are excellent. Don’t think that Australian coursework or grades are any less impressive than those from a university in North America. Sure, a Master’s in History from the University of Adelaide isn’t quite the same as a Harvard Law degree if that’s the other path you’re considering, but if you’re looking at any of the arts or sciences, there are universities in Australia that have a department for you. There’s plenty of quality research going on around the country, along with state-of-the-art facilities.

Map by Lonely Planet

5. It will give your resume some diversity. As a grad student or undergrad, having overseas experience will show future employers that you can adapt to new situations, that you have a sense of adventure, and that you are open to new people, new ideas and new challenges.

6. You’ll meet a gazillion new people from all over the world. International students make up about 20% of the population at the University of New South Wales, for example, and that’s true of many other large institutions around Australia. Overall, foreign students are Australia’s sixth largest export. It’s a more than $2 billion dollar industry here, and that guarantees that you’ll be living It’s a Small World.

7. You’ll form incredible friendships. I enjoyed the working holiday I did in Sydney before going back to be a student. But I can say without hesitation that being a student is a much easier way to meet people and become involved in the community and the culture. There are clubs and societies to join, contests and events on campus to participate in, and a sense of family among the international students.

The Cons

1. Australia is far away. No matter where you head for higher education, it’s true that at least part of what you save in tuition will get spent on travel, accommodation and getting set up. Maybe you’ll decide you want a car, or a fancy apartment, or a surf board and scuba gear. Starting a new life costs money, and while you can do it on a budget, you just might not want to have to do it all from scratch.

2. There’s a lot of red tape involved with getting all the paperwork done, and it can be frustrating and confusing. To get the visa you need a physical, including a chest x-ray to prove you are tuberculosis-free. You also have to put together financial statements, photos and college transcripts and you may have to fax things all over the place to get them stamped and signed by all the right people. If you take it piece by piece though it will all get done, and it will all be worth it.

3. There are really big bugs there. That’s about the worst thing I can think of. It seems like there should be more of a downside, but I’m stumped.

Ready to go? Book a student fare to Oz, and be sure to get your ISIC as well.