Don’t let COVID take away another year of travel – load up your bag and live out your backpacking dreams in Australia instead.
‘Yeah, I was planning on travelling to (insert international holiday destination), but COVID’s ruined those plans.’
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard these words over the past year. Yep, it’s pretty rough. But also, now is the perfect time to explore our own backyard – and boy is it beautiful.
We All Need to Escape Sometimes
My head was full of revision for exams, I was sick of being stuck at home, all I wanted was to go on an adventure. I’d been making the most of weekends and hiking whenever possible, but it was time for something bigger.
The Victorian border opened on the 28th of November, the same day as my final exam. I did a little research, booked a train ticket, finished my exam, and escaped. Since then, I’ve been travelling around NSW and Queensland, lapping up the salt and sunshine, and eating mountains of blueberries.
You’re a Broke Uni Student – How Did You Afford it?
Well, this is where it gets exciting. The lack of international backpackers has left many short-term or seasonal jobs available for those willing to get their hands dirty and have a bit of fun.
‘Wait, you’re Australian! Why on earth are you fruit picking?’
I was asked this question by friends from home, other pickers, and by backpackers who had to complete three months of farm work for their work-and-travel visas. Fruit picking has a bad reputation for exploiting its workers, and I’m not saying this is undeserved. However, there are good jobs out there, you just need to do your research.
Agriculture is one of the major industries suffering from international travel bans. The Australian government is currently offering a $6000 relocation grant (covering accommodation and travel costs) for anyone willing to spend six weeks working the harvest trail.
I can honestly say, as a young person who has worked many different jobs, this has been one of my favourites. There’s something meditative about spending a day in the sun, listening to music or podcasts as your buckets fill up.
Also, the pay is piece-rate (you get a certain amount per kilo), so the harder you work the more you earn. The time goes by very quickly if you’re trying to beat your previous day’s record (for competition’s sake, on my best day I picked 67.4kg of berries – beat that).
Surely it gets boring staying in the one place when you’re supposed to be travelling?
Six weeks, while it may seem long, was actually the perfect time period for me. When you stay at a place a little longer, you get to know it more intimately. There’s so much opportunity to explore the lesser-known areas that you may not come across if you’re just drifting through.
Hostels are the perfect place to meet people and long-term guests create their own little family. I was in Coffs Harbour over Christmas, so we organised our own celebration, filling the hostel with mouth-watering scents of mulled wine and roast meat as well as a smorgasbord of international cuisine rustled up by the backpackers.
I also hired a car for transport to work (thanks government), which came in handy when exploring neighbouring towns. As blueberry picking is very weather dependent, I spent a lot of time surfing, kayaking, hiking, and generally mucking around.
The thought of farm work just doesn’t appeal… is there any alternative?
Yes! There are so many jobs available. Following my adventures in Coffs Harbour, I headed up to Yunbenun/Magnetic Island, off the coast of Townsville, where I worked for accommodation at Base Backpackers, as well as in a café for a few extra funds.
Maggie Island is a literal paradise on earth. Picture sparkling blue ocean and dramatic rocky mountains covered in lush, tropical vegetation. Yet it’s predominantly a tourist destination and relies on backpackers to staff the many cafes and restaurants. Without international tourism, there are many more short-term and casual jobs available for Australian travellers.
Why bother when I already have a good stable job at home?
I would love to say the classic ‘you only live once, think of the memories!’, but I know that this isn’t realistic for everyone.
For me, working while travelling was perfect – it slotted into my life during the uni holidays, and I was able to save money while gaining so many experiences. However, I completely understand that this sort of lifestyle isn’t feasible for many people.
But just think about it quickly…
Would you take two weeks off to travel to Europe? Or maybe a month-long road-trip around the States?
There’s a reason why international backpackers love Australia so much. Our country is stunning. And for the time being, international travel is out of the question. So why not make the most of this incredible opportunity to appreciate what we have, and to get to know the land that we live on. Also, you’ll be supporting local tourism businesses. What’s not to love?
Some Final Pieces of Advice…
Firstly, check that any hostels you’re staying at accept Australians. During normal times, many require an international passport, however an added COVID bonus is that hostels are much more likely to accept Australian travellers.
Secondly, before you book, make sure to check online reviews. Hostels are the cheapest form of accommodation, so realistically they’re not going to have the most luxurious facilities, but it’s still worth having a quick look so you don’t end up somewhere you feel unsafe or really don’t want to be.
If you’re planning on working during your travels, think about what you might need so you don’t have to spend unnecessary money. For example, if you’re hoping to get a job in hospitality, it’s worth packing a plain black shirt and comfortable enclosed shoes. Having an RSA or barista qualification can also come in handy.
Finally, bring a pair of earplugs (and probably an eye mask too). You may not end up needing them, but if you do, they’ll be worth their weight in gold.
What are you waiting for?
Stop fluffing about – now’s the time to grab your Lonely Planet guide (or check out this crazy cool website I found called ‘We Are Explorers’), find some nice-looking spots, and get going!