Back across the ditch (for a dose of bad luck)

One of my regrets when leaving New Zealand after my working holiday last year is that there were so many amazing hikes I only found out about once I was already in the country, and I didn’t have enough time to plan all the tramps I wanted to do. When we left Australia at the end of our visa there, Steve and I agreed our first stop would be back to NZ for a few more walks. We decided that apart from Queenstown, which we’d fly into and stay long enough for a Fergburger, and Wellington, where we wanted to catch up with friends, we would focus our itinerary on places we hadn’t yet been. After all, who knows how long it’ll be until we get to come back to this side of the world again?

Our route looked like this: Queenstown – Dunedin – the Catlins – Stewart Island (Rakiura track) – up through the Haast pass to the West Coast – Glaciers – Greymouth – Picton – Marlborough Sounds (Queen Charlotte track) – Wellington.

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A Working Holiday Visa Overview for Americans

Here’s the thing about visas: unless you have immigrated or seriously considered trying to immigrate, you probably don’t know how difficult the process is. There are options, of course—if you do have in-demand skills you can get sponsored by a company that will bring you to your desired country, you can move abroad as a student at a foreign university or as the spouse of a foreign citizen, or if you have a lot of money or a pension you can retire to some beach town in Spain or Guatemala. But if you don’t have a ton of work experience and you’re happy just to get out for a year or two and live somewhere new, your best option is a working holiday visa.

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Until I lived in Ireland, I had never heard of a working holiday. But when I got to Ireland, it seemed like everyone was abroad (so many Canadians!) or going abroad (to Canada, Australia, etc.) on this thing called a working holiday visa. Now, just about six years after I first arrived in Ireland, I’m on my second working holiday visa and I love the opportunity it’s given me to live abroad for a longer period of time. I think one of the reasons Americans aren’t as likely to do working holidays is that we have fewer options than other nationalities (for example, Canadians can go to over 30 countries, whereas Americans only have 5 options, and three of those require you to be a student or recent graduate), but I think another reason is that we just don’t know about them! So I wanted to write up a little guide to working holiday visas available to Americans.

Note: Obviously, nothing I say here is legal or official advice in anyway. I will be providing links to the relevant government websites and I suggest you utilise them. Also, while requirements are often similar for folks from other countries, there are some differences so make sure to look up your respective country’s visa options if you are not from the States.


 

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Why get a Working Holiday visa? 

Let’s start with the big question: why apply for a working holiday visa rather than just going on vacation? For one thing, the visa lets you stay much longer than the regular tourist allowance. Generally, you get 12 months, and for Australia you can even get a whole extra year if you do 3 months of work in a rural area during your first year. And oh yeah, you’re allowed to work. Much easier to fund your travels without depleting all your savings if you’re allowed to have a job. The great thing about the working holiday visa is that you don’t have to be sponsored by a company, so you don’t have to have a job ahead of time and you can also do jobs that wouldn’t normally be eligible for a high-demand, high-skills work visa, like hospitality or admin work. It’s a great way to get to really explore a country and keep some money in your bank account as you go.

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The easiest options: Australia and New Zealand

To get a working holiday visa to Australia or New Zealand, pretty much the only thing you need is to be aged 18 to 30. Places in the Australian and New Zealand working holiday programs are unlimited for Americans, and to apply for the New Zealand visa is even free (for Australia it’s about 350USD). The visa comes through quickly (for NZ it took a couple days and for Australia only a couple of minutes) and then you can head off on your great adventure! You will need to be able show a couple thousand dollars in savings—although nobody I know has ever actually been asked for this at immigration, it’s still a good idea to have until you can get set up with an apartment, a job, and so on.

So which one should you do? Well of course, my recommendation is both! But if you feel like you can’t escape the real world for too long or you’re on the edge of 30 and only have time to squeeze one in before you age out, I would definitely go for New Zealand. I’ll write a longer post about this soon though, so stay tuned.

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For students and new grads: Ireland, Singapore, and South Korea

I didn’t technically do the Ireland working holiday visa because I went to grad school in Ireland and so the visa I got after I finished was a “postgraduate visa” rather than a “working holiday visa,” but in essence, it was the same. One of the great things about the Irish WHV is that there is no age limit, as long as you are a current college or grad student, or have graduated in the last 12 months. On the other hand, for most of us who went to college straight out of high school, that timeframe has long since passed. However, if you are still in school or thinking of going back, it’s a great option to keep in mind!

To be honest, I don’t know a ton about the Singapore and Korea working holidays. For both, you must be a student/recent grad, and for Singapore your school must be ranked in the top 200 globally. There’s also an age requirement of 18-30 for Korea and 18-25 for Singapore. So while it is possible, it’s definitely more limited, but I wanted to bring them up in case you’ve dreamed of going to Asia but aren’t interested in something like English teaching, and in case the parameters apply.

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The bottom line

A working holiday visa is generally only temporary (it can’t usually be extended and if you want to stay longer you have to find sponsorship for a different visa type), but it’s an amazing way to experience long-term travel in a different part of the world. You’ll meet locals and other travelers, mix work and adventure, and come back richer in life but not poorer in savings (at least not significantly poorer… hopefully). Obviously it does often mean putting career and other aspects of your life on hold, but I think it is 1000 percent worth the trade-off and I would recommend it to almost anyone if it is available to you. This is only a small overview of working holiday visas, but if you have any questions, please reach out! I love to share my experiences and advice.

Happy travels!

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Kia kaha, Christchurch

It is a privilege to feel safe in the places you call home. It shouldn’t be, because what is home if it is not a place that is known and that is safe, but again and again we see places that should be known made unsafe by hate. Like the rest of the world, I was shocked and saddened to hear the news of the mass murder of Muslims at a mosque in Christchurch. New Zealand is the safest and most peaceful country I have ever been to or lived in, and yet a group of people decided that shouldn’t be the case for their victims.

New Zealanders haven’t had to grapple with a tragedy like this, whereas in America we are nearly desensitized to news of yet another mass shooting. Politicians send their thoughts and prayers, outraged is silenced with cries of “too soon,” The Onion reposts that too-accurate headline, and nothing changes. I was surprised and gladdened to hear that the New Zealand government’s immediate response was to promise a ban on semi-automatic weapons; imagine if our politicians had ever acted so quickly and decisively? How many schoolchildren, churchgoers, and others would still be with us?

The outpouring of support for the Muslim community in the wake of the tragedy is also heartening. Flowers cover mosques around the country. Vigil attendances number in the thousands. A givealittle page (New Zealand’s answer to Go Fund Me) for victim support has topped $5 million in donations. Kiwis and the world are coming together to echo Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s words about the victims: “They are us.”

At the same time, although for many New Zealand seemed like a utopia between its stunning natural beauty and its peaceful, unified society, the sad truth is that New Zealand is not immune from the influence of intolerance, white supremacy, and an environment where “casual” discrimination is given a blind eye rather than spotlighted and called out (and what does “casual” discrimination even mean? Is it a hobby? A side-hustle? Part-time racism?). Where alt-righters like Stefan Molyneux, Jordan Peterson, and Lauren Southern have eager audiences. Where stereotypes about Maori and other islanders flourish as “jokes.”

I am certainly not writing this as a sanctimonious outsider pointing out the flaws of another country; I, too, am certainly often guilty of not doing enough to call out intolerance when I see it. It’s particularly tragic to think that the murderers were likely inspired by the political climate of my own nation. And New Zealand is certainly a lot more welcoming than the United States (or Australia, by the way; wow, there is a lot of racism here, and not just from the Senator who made that awful statement after the mosque shooting, although you should enjoy this video of him getting egged by a teenager).

However, it is tempting to dismiss the murderers’ terrible actions as unrelated to anything else in New Zealand society, to identify solely with the victims. But without changing our own actions and stepping up every time to speak out against racism, discrimination, Islamophobia, intolerance, we are dishonouring the victims by allowing the murderers and those who think like them to find something to identify with in us (please read this powerful comic by Spinoff journalist Toby Morris for more).

It is important to carry the feelings of love and solidarity for the Muslim community, the immigrant community, the community as a whole, that are strongest and most present now in wake of this tragedy, and let them be a guideline going forward. We must cultivate an environment in which seeds of hate can not plant roots. And that means asking ourselves difficult questions, and being willing to ask difficult questions to others. Kia kaha, New Zealand. Stay strong and show your strength by protecting your whānau—Maori, pakeha, Muslim, and everyone else who is lucky enough to live in such a kind and beautiful country. Come together in love and action to ensure that everyone is safe in the places they call home.

Dos and Don’ts for a Great Walk on the Milford Track

The Milford Track has often been called one of the finest walks in the world. One of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks, it consists of 53.3km of waterfalls, swing bridges, and some of the most beautiful views I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Being a four-day, three-night hike in which you stay at Department of Conservation huts and have to pack in and out most of your necessities (although the huts do have some amenities like gas cookers and even flush toilets), it’s a pretty big undertaking and therefore it’s good to have some guidance if you’re planning on doing the walk. Here are my dos and don’ts for a successful tramp along the Milford Track:

Waterfalls for days on the Milford Track

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Falling with style

What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done? Did you move to a new country? Go on a blind date? Quit your job? Jump out of a plane? As of last month, I can say I’ve done all of the above, thanks to my experience skydiving over the Remarkables mountain range in Queenstown. 

I’ve always considered myself a relatively adventurous person. My living-in-four-countries-in-four-years (soon to be five-in-five) lifestyle bears that out, and I’ve never hesitated to try new things. Skydiving is something I’ve always wanted to try, and after hearing from so many people that Queenstown jumps have some of the best views in the world, it was firmly in my mind that when I went to Queenstown, I would skydive. 

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Steve and me on the way up

What I didn’t expect was that I wouldn’t be skydiving alone. I’m not referring to the tandem master, the skydiving pro who actually does most of the work—obviously I wouldn’t be jumping by myself—and I was pretty sure that I could convince Steve to give it a go. No, I was surprised that skydiving in Queenstown became a family event.

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One for next time

In less than a month, my time in New Zealand is coming to an end. My Australia visa is approved, my flight is booked, and on 27 November Steve and I will be heading off for our next chapter in Melbourne. We’ve done so many incredible things in New Zealand, stretching from our first overnight tramping trip in the Tararuas to our upcoming final trip next week to hike the Milford Track (known as one of the best walks in the world). We’ve seen a lot of what we’ve wanted to see in this beautiful country, especially now that we’ve been down to Queenstown and the surrounding area with my family (more on our family trip soon!).

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