The Unglamorous Side Of Being A Backpacker In Australia

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Living in the sun, going to the beach on your days off, making the most of Australian food and coffee culture, enjoying the chilled lifestyle and occassionally going to work to be able to afford crazy adventures around the land down under? Is that what going to Australia for a year feels like?

Well, yeah, that’s the Instagrammable version of it. And even though it makes me really really happy that more and more people are messaging me that I’ve inspired them to go to Australia for a year…it also freaks me out. Am I giving you an accurate representation of what it is really like to live in Australia?

Are you going to love it as much as me? Or are you in for a shock?

I’ve got my priorities straight, I’m happy but I just want to clear my conscience and really don’t want to give you an inaccurate representation of what is it going to be like. You’ve seen the glamorous side of it, are you ready for the unglamorous part now?

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‘Are you a backpacker?’
‘No, I’m a human being actually.’

When you come to Australia from overseas on a ‘Work and Holiday’ visa, you’ll get a new identity, you’re a ‘backpacker‘ now. Even if you are travelling with a suitcase. And this new identity comes with a new set of identity expectations.

That you’re here just for a while, all you want to do is travel, have fun, drink, you’re staying in a hostel or a crappy accommodation, living off minimum budget, carrying only an essential number of possessions and definitely not doing anything serious with your life.

I mean, yeah, some of those might be true for you but even though so many people are backpacking Australia, there are many different ways of doing it, because let’s not forget, we are all human beings with different desires, personalities and priorities.

It would be nice not having to prove that you actually want to live in a nice flat, that you don’t mind paying money for nice things and that drinking is not what you came here for.

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Let me introduce you to the worst work contract ever – the ‘casual’

This could be a topic for a whole blog post. If you come here on a WH visa, you’ll be most probably employed as a casual employee, which basically means that you have no guaranteed hours per week, and you’ll just work as ‘needed’.

Which means they have a full right to send you home any time they get quiet, you can get 6 shifts one week and then 2 shifts the next week, which means they’ll give you a lot of hours when they need you but give you minimum when they don’t. And beware, they’ll do exactly that. Of course there are exceptions but it’s quite hard to find an employer that will try to give you stable amount of hours every week. Which means you might be doing really well or you might be struggling. Still gotta pay the extortionate Australian rent? Nobody cares.

Obviously, not all the places treat you like that but a lot of times, it just comes down to luck and many factors outside of your control.

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Sure, we’ll hire you BUT…

I found that if you have enough experience, it’s quite easy to find a hospitality job in major cities and that’s my answer every time someone asks me that BUT… A lot of people don’t ask further and there is a big ‘but’ that you need to consider.

The fact that someone will hire you doesn’t mean that they’ll give you enough hours, doesn’t mean that they’ll pay you fair ‘award’ rates, or that they won’t cancel your shift three hours beforehand. The tough part is that because you’re a backpacker employed on a ‘casual’ basis, there’s really very little that you can do and most of these things you’ll find out too late. My advice? Trust your intuition and try to ask some questions to find out whether they’ll be a decent employer if you can.

Also, from my personal observation, the work environment is a lot more tough in here than it is in the UK. You’ll need to prove that you’re a good worker if you want to keep the job. Don’t really expect to cruise through your shifts doing as little as possible, as I’ve often witnessed people do in the UK. Aussies don’t mess around, they’ll just fire you, or give you two shifts a week. There’s a million other backpackers looking for a job, anyway.

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Trial shifts are paid in beer

When looking for a hospitality job in Australia, you’ll be asked to come in for a trial shift, which is fair. But because there is such a massive number of people looking for jobs and so many places to work at and since you might not like some of them and some of them might not want to hire you, this can quite easily turn into you doing a trial shift every day. Decent places will pay you for it after they hire you but more common ‘payment’ moment at the end of your trial shift is ‘Do you want a drink or something to eat?’ Actually, I would prefer money, but okay, I’ll take the beer, lol.

Of course, as a one-off thing, it’s not a big deal but I was in a situation where I was doing trial shifts three times a week on my days off for which I wasn’t getting paid for. And was very annoying. Again, there is very little you can do in that situation. Well, unless you want to report them to the Fair Employment or something, but really, who’s gonna do that?

BONUS trial shift story – getting you in for a trial when they’re actually not even hiring

I know, that’s really bad karma, right?

I’ve heard so many horrible stories like this when people were called in for a trial, promised work and then the employers never got back to them. I knew of bars in Melbourne that were known to call ‘backpackers’ in for trials even when they never intended to hire them just get someone to cover a busy night for free.

You’re here just for a good time, not a long time

As to everything in this article, there are exceptions, but because most people backpacking Australia are at every place only for a few months or a year, some people will treat you that way too. Keeping in mind that you’ll be gone soon anyway, so it’s not really worth it to start anything more serious and get too attached, employment-wise and personal-wise.

And because it’s not easy to get permanent residency even if you wanted to, it’s gonna be hard for you too. Because you’ll find yourself in a position that even if you like somewhere a lot and you want to stay, you can’t. And as a result, you’re battling with an urge to make it a home and the knowledge that you’ll need to leave soon anyway.

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It’s expensive

Australia is an expensive country. That’ a fact. And you need to come to terms with it before you come.

Sure, the lifestyle is amazing, the wages are fair and if you’re employed, the quality of living is excellent but as a backpacker, none of these things are guaranteed to you.

I just want you to know that you need to be a little bit tough, you need to be up for competition, up for working hard and have some life experience of taking care of yourself under your belt already, if you want to live in Australia.

If you have that, I’m sure you’ll be sweet but when 18 year olds, fresh out of High School message me that they want to live in Sydney, which is the most expensive place in Australia, I’m a little bit scared for them, you know.

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There you have it, the unglamorous non-Instagrammable description of Work and Holiday visa backpacker experience in Australia.

Still tempted?

Go on then, book the flight.


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