On the Overland Track (6 to 11 November 2019)

I know that the weather in Tasmania, especially in its many wilderness areas, is famously unpredictable, but when I saw “snow” on the forecast for Steve and my recent hike on the Overland Track that runs between Cradle Mountain and Lake St. Clair in the island’s centre, I imagined we might be encountering a few flurries, maybe even walking through a dusting of settled snow along the path.

Well…

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… it was a bit more than a dusting.

Continue reading “On the Overland Track (6 to 11 November 2019)”

The big question in Cairns, Queensland

Last night Steve and I landed back in Melbourne after 11 days in Japan for sightseeing around the Rugby World Cup (COYBIG!) and while I have a lot to say about that (I promise, everyone who has asked for recommendations, I have heaps to provide!) I also haven’t even written about our last trip yet. And, well, it was kind of a big deal, so I don’t want to just let it pass by.

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So here’s the story about my trip to Queensland with my now-fiancé:

Continue reading “The big question in Cairns, Queensland”

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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Lost in the rain on the Grampians Peaks Trail

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Very thankful for waterproofs

I love to hike in the shoulder season. The temperature is cooler, so you’re not dripping with sweat while you tote around your pack. There are fewer people, so it’s less likely that you’ll be stuck 10 feet behind some asshole who thinks everyone else on the trail wants to listen their shitty EDM playlist. And there’s just something about the misty, transitional weather that accompanies spring and autumn that makes hiking during that time feel like an otherworldly adventure.

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Of course, sometimes that adventure is more like a walk through Mordor than a trip into fairyland. A few weeks ago Steve and I went hiking in the Grampians, a national park about three hours’ drive from Melbourne. The weather during the week was decent but as the weekend approached the forecast looked worse and worse. 80%+ chance of rain is never what you want to see when you’re preparing to spend a few days in the great outdoors. Moreover, this would be our first time tent camping during a hike, spoiled as we’ve been with New Zealand’s amazing hut system.

Continue reading “Lost in the rain on the Grampians Peaks Trail”

Watching the world at Between Two Worlds

Yesterday I went to the National Gallery of Victoria to see their current special exhibition, Escher X nendo | Between Two Worlds, before it closes next week. First off, if you live in Melbourne and you have the time between now and 7 April, please do try to give it a visit. The fantastic show creates a dialogue between the work of Dutch artist M.C. Escher, most known for his fantastical optical illusion creations, and Japanese design house nendo, who drew inspiration from Escher’s art to create a series of interactive displays and installations that guide you through the exhibition and into a dreamy, yet high-contrast world of black and white geometry.


I brought my camera intending to take a few photos of works in the exhibition, but instead I found myself captivated by other people’s photos. Everywhere I looked, folks had their phones out, cameras on, capturing their own photos of the lithographs, prints, and installations. I was fascinated to get this glimpse into everyone else’s experiences of the show. It’s so rare that we get to see through someone else’s eyes in real time, our windows into their perspective coloured after the fact by the pictures they choose to share, the filters they use.


As I walked through the exhibit, I spent as much time looking at the other visitors as I did looking at the works of art. I loved seeing which pieces they connected with, which ones they wanted to remember. I liked seeing the way they chose to document the art they saw: did they faithfully capture the full work or try to put their own artistic spin on their photo by cropping a detail or including a companion? Did they photograph the information card as well, or were they content to divorce the image from its title and history?


With apologies to the people through whose viewfinders I creepily photographed, seeing the exhibit through multiple points of view added a new layer to my understanding and enjoyment of the art. Escher’s work is all about reflections and twisted perspectives, and looking at the photos that others took brought that fascinatingly distorted outlook to my own experience of the exhibit. I definitely recommend seeing Escher x nendo | Between Two Worlds at the NGV if you can, but whether you go to this exhibit or any art show in the future, look around at the other visitors and see what they see for a moment or two.

On Top of Down Under

The Seven Summits comprise the highest peak on each of the continents—Mount Everest, obviously, Denali in Alaska, Mount Kilimanjaro, and so on. For many, ascending each of these seven mountains is a lifelong dream. However, not all seven peaks are created equal. Obviously, Everest is the hardest not only for its technical difficulty but also for the tens of thousands of dollars cost of its permit, while Kilimanjaro is a multi-day but non-technical hike that can be accomplished by hikers without mountaineering experience.

Looking at Kosci from the start of the Main Range Track

Then there’s Mount Kosciuszko. At 2,228 metres, it is only a quarter of the height of Everest, and can be summited in a single day—or less, if you take the route that includes a chairlift ride most of the way to the top. Some rankings of the Seven Summits don’t even include Kosci, replacing it with Puncak Jaya in Indonesia by considering Australasia the continent rather than Australia. But since I don’t have any desire to ascend all seven summits (I’d like to do Kilimanjaro in a few years, but I don’t see myself ever tackling the others), I’m happy to consider Kosci among the peaks.

Steve and me at the start of the hike

Last week, Steve and I rented a car and drove seven hours from Melbourne to Mount Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales to hike to the highest point in Australia. We stayed overnight in Jindabyne, about half an hour away, and got up bright and early on Friday morning to head up the mountain. In order to make it more of a hike, we forewent the Threadbo trail with its chairlift and headed around the other side to Charlotte Pass for a 22km loop trail that connected the Summit Road and the Main Range Track.

The first thing that surprised me was how beautiful it was. I was expecting a dry, sparse range based on the endless stretches of red dirt and leafless trees we had passed on the Hume Highway on the way up, but the views were actually mountainous and lovely. The track was also wonderfully peaceful. On our way up, we only encountered one other group—a pack of older folks kitted out with tramping poles and wide-brimmed hats, who kept up a solid pace even on the steeper sections. There was no one blasting shitty EDM off their cell phones for all to hear, thank christ.

On the way to the summit

The top was a bit busier because the three trails—Summit, Main Range, and Chairlift—converged (I’d guess most folks came up on the chairlift based on the lack of daypacks or hiking boots) but it was still very quiet compared to some of the hikes I’ve done in New Zealand and elsewhere. A surveying trig and elevation sign mark the summit, where we took a break for lunch before following the mild downward grade of the Summit Road back to our car.

At the top!

The hike took us just over six hours in total, lunch included, and was only strenuous in its length, but it was still a fun way to spend a few days (on the trip, we also drove up to Canberra to visit the NASA Deep Space Communications Centre and the National Gallery and Museum), and it’s fun to be able to say we’ve climbed one of the Seven Summits, no matter how small.

Surveying trig marker at the summit