While I was away in Australia for eight months, it was very common for me to get messages from friends asking what I was doing and how I was affording all my travels. I think the common misconception was that I quit my day job so I could travel across the world to Australia and lie on a beach all day doing nothing. While that would be wonderful, it's not exactly what I did.
My secret to staying in Australia long term, is something called “a working holiday visa.”
Before I explain what a working holiday is, I'd like to explain what it isn't. First of all, my parents didn't build up a trust fund for me to travel on. They don't send me money every month and they didn't give me a large inheritance in order to make this trip possible. I worked a full-time job for two years. Of those two years I spent the last eight months saving 35% of each check for this trip. On top of my regular forty hours, I also held a part time job for six months leading up to this trip. 100% of that income went into savings. On top of these two jobs, I also spent several Saturdays building up and tearing down my booth space at art shows where I sat in the sun all day in hopes of selling a few paintings. As you may have guessed, these earning went straight to the pot as well.
In all, I was putting back close to $900 each month. While this sounds like a lot, I will mention I had to pay a $1000 flight here and a $1500 payment to the travel company who is sponsoring my trip (more about that later) before I ever left the states. I also booked our first week's transportation and accommodation beforehand. So before I ever left Oklahoma, I had already put down $3000 of my hard-earned money. The remaining bit in my savings account was what I lived off of for the first six weeks of traveling. This paid for hotels, busses, flights and meals along my way to Kangaroo Island, where I would begin working again. I'd also like to mention that my tax return and Christmas bonus covered things like my final phone bill and a small sum to cover monthly fees in my checking account back home. If you look at it this way, I worked really hard for six-months in exchange for six weeks of travel. Sounds a lot more realistic than it does magical, huh?
So how did I afford to stay in Australia for the remaining six months and three weeks? I had seen most of the east coast, I had partied with Brits, seen a koala bear in the wild and toured the Great Ocean Road. I had ate fresh seafood, cooked with an Italian and tasted the local brew. After six weeks of living large, I was flat broke. I had saved up every spare penny for eight months and before the change of season I had spent it all. Was this the end of my journey I'd worked so hard on?
Had I merely been “traveling” through Australia, this would have been the end. But my goal had not simply been to see some of the country, but rather to experience and understand the country as a whole.
So I did the most logical thing I could do.
I went back to work.
Despite what my friends back home were seeing on my Instagram feed, I wasn't just frolicking around. I spent about two thirds of my time working and the remaining third traveling. For example, the common method was three months of work for every one month of travel. Some of the work I did wasn't even paid, it was just in exchange for room and board. The bottom line is just as the Bible says, if you don't work, you don't eat.
I worked as a manager on Kangaroo Island for three months. It was monotonous, hard work. I did things like pulling black hairs off of shower walls, scrubbing toilets and handling the crabby customers who didn't like the burgers I cooked. I had a five minute time limit on my personal showering and more than once I had smile and listen as old ladies read off a list of everything I was doing wrong. While working during this three month period I didn't spend much either. Food and accommodation were included in my paycheck and the only shopping I did was a few small purchases like watercolor paints and drawing pens. At the end of my job period I had saved around $2000, which was enough to travel on for another six weeks.
During the first three weeks of travel after Kangaroo Island I am proud to say I spent a total of only $350 dollars. That's $116 a week! This was possible because my friends and I traveled very sensibly through the Outback. We stayed at free campsites, cooked our own meals and avoided expensive tours.
My ten day trip to Bali cost less than $500 total and that is because Bali is a very cheap travel destination, also, again, I was very froogle. However, by the end of the Bali vacation I getting low on my finances so Matthew and I began looking for work. What we found instead was volunteer opportunities. Many people are happy to house and feed backpackers in exchange for 4-6 hours work around the property. This is helpful because it saves me money on having to buy a room at a hostel or a $15 meal. I call it, the art of remaining financially neutral. I'm not spending any money, but I'm not making any money either. After a few weeks of coasting neutral, I did find work in Queensland, where I worked eight hour days, six days a week for three weeks. This brought my account up enough that I am now able to enjoy three weeks of travel with my friends. After these three weeks I will in fact, go back to work so I can finish my journey around the country.
Some of you may be surprised to learn that I haven't struck it rich while in Australia. I've learned to live on less. A lot less. I have one suit case and out of that suitcase I live. When I first packed my suitcase I thought it was nearly impossible to live off of so little. But after about six months in, I felt like I should have packed a lot less. Things that I love like make-up, hair products, jewelry and art were simply not in my budget while I was traveling. I also didn't have room for these things in my suitcase. This means I didn't buy any fancy things or new clothes while I was gone. If anything I got rid of clothes and sent jewelry back home! The idea is that I spent very little except by way of traveling from one destination to another. This is what makes the dream possible and keeps me at my destination!
All this to say, I was not on a year-long vacation. I'm not rich. I wasn't rich before I left and I was definitely not rich when I came home. Despite what others thought, I spent very little while touring the beautiful nation of Australia and what I did spend I worked really hard to achieve. That is a Working Holiday and that is how I afforded to stay in Australia for eight months. I was working while on holiday.