I made my way to the land down under when my best friend Clara invited me to come stay with her for a couple of weeks while she was studying at a UNSW for the semester. We’d been talking about going to Australia together since we were ten, so I couldn’t turn down the opportunity (plus I had enough airlines miles to fly for free and a free place to stay)! Check out my recommendations and tips below for travelling to Sydney!
1. YOU NEED A VISA!
Unless you're from New Zealand, you'll need to have a visa before traveling to Australia. Luckily, the process of obtaining the visa is super fast and easy.
No matter what kind of visa you need, go to www.border.gov.au/trav/visa-1. The website will guide you through a step-by-step process to help you determine which visa you need.
*Also note that you must have the visa for at least 24 hours prior to landing in Australia, otherwise you may face extensive delays waiting in customs for your identity to be confirmed.
2. COST OF LIVING IS HIGHER IN AUSTRALIA
The currency exchange for USD to AUD is currently 1 USD: 1.34 AUD; however, just because the American Dollar goes a little bit further than the Australian Dollar doesn't mean that you won't be spending a pretty penny while you're there. Australians have a higher cost of living than us Americans and therefore everything is priced slightly higher than we would find it if we were in the States. For example, avo toast with a flat white (aka what I had for brekkie almost every morning I was there) would cost me $10USD in the states where it would typically run between $18-25AUD. Do the math and you'll still see that the cost is still higher in Australia.
3. THE THINNEST PART OF THE OZONE IS ABOVE AUSTRALIA
For those of you who are like me *shout out to those girls that freckle/sunburn instead of tan!* a trip to Australia means SPF 50 at all times. If I could give you one piece of advice for the entire trip: bring sunscreen. The Ozone layer above Australia is thinner than it is in many other parts of the world and therefore, people like me, are more susceptible to sunburns.
If you forget your sunscreen like me, you can run over to the local chemist (pharmacy!) and pick some up. I HIGHLY recommend (based off of my own personal experience) Le Tan's skincare. It works incredible well, smells heavenly, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't bring back 6 bottles with me to the states because I loved it so much. I kid you not I actually applied it as perfume sometimes when I first got back because it smells THAT good.
4. SEEING WILDLIFE UNIQUE TO AUSTRALIA ISN'T THAT EASY
I arrived in Sydney with the expectation that I could easily walk into a zoo, lay down with the 'roos and take my highly desired selfies with them. I made these presumptions because I had friends that were able to do this on the West Coast of Australia and figured that if it was commonplace in one area, it would be acceptable in another. I quickly learned that this was not the case and that different territories had their own rules when it came to wildlife. I was also under the impression that I'd be able to see all of the other diverse wildlife that is unique to Australia without any problems. It also become apparent that seeing this wildlife would be much more difficult that I had imagined.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to get up close to most of these animals at the Hamilton Island zoo up in Queensland, Australia; however, rules here were still fairly strict. For Kangaroos, tourists were allotted a small narrow pathway that we could stand on and if the kangaroos decided to approach us we could get our selfies (at our own risk). We were still not permitted to step off of the path and while I was disappointed that I couldn't get closer, I completely understood why the zoo felt responsible for respecting this rare animal's space.
INTERNATIONAL DATA PLANS AREN'T NECESSARY
I would be lying if I didn't admit that I had an international plan *for emergencies* when I went to Australia and when I arrived, I thought it would be nearly impossible to communicate with friends and family back in the states while I was traveling; however, I quickly found that this was not the case. Many local cafes, restaurants, even beaches offer free wifi making it super easy to connect with people back home (I actually made it part of my daily routine to walk down to Bondi Beach in the mornings when I woke up to FaceTime my loved ones before they went to bed).
If for some reason, you struggle to find a wifi, don't fret. Sydney is 15 hours ahead of US Eastern Standard Time. If you're from the US, your friends and family will be fast asleep while you are out and about touring for most of the day.
NOTHING IN AUSTRALIA IS "CLOSE"
What I mean by this is Australia is a HUGE country. Flying from one end of Australia to the next is comparable to flying from the East Coast to the West Coast of the United States- aka you can't see all of Australia in a short period of time. Go into your trip with the understanding that you're either spending weeks, or maybe even months, in Australia, or you will be planning another trip to finish what you had started.
THE SYDNEY BRIDGE EXPENSIVE
The Sydney Bridge is one of the most iconic spots in Sydney, only second to maybe the Sydney Opera House; however, the Sydney Bridge Walk Tour is notorious for being astronomically expensive for a short (and scary!) hike up to the top.
You are not allowed to bring any personal items for safety reasons, so if you want a keepsake to remember your experience, you'll need to purchase their photo of you at the top for an additional cost.
My Advice: Skip the tour and walk across the bridge on the normal sidewalk! You may not be as high, but you can still get unparalleled views of the Sydney Opera House and Darling Harbour for a whopping price of $0.
DO not EAT VEGEMITE BY THE SPOONFUL
Contrary to what Mary Kate and Ashley Oslen may lead you to believe in Our Lips Are Sealed you cannot happily eat a spoonful of vegemite without hating yourself at least once in the process. The actresses actually eat spoonfuls of Nutella in the movie, rather than actual vegemite (can we really blame them? I'll take Nutella in any shape or form please!).
Vegemite is full of vitamins and is actually very good for you, but be wary, it's super salty! While vegemite isn't for everyone, you can't travel all the way to Australia without trying it! I highly recommend a thin layer (and by thin I mean almost a non-existent layer) of vegemite, topped with some avo and a poached egg for breakfast.
THE GREAT BARRIER REEF DOES NOT LOOK LIKE FINDING NEMO
I mean obviously it doesn't look like an animated movie, but I have to admit that I went on my day trip to the Great Barrier Reef with the expectation that I was going to jump in the water and see more fish and colorful coral than I had seen in my entire life. Don't get me wrong, it was still beautiful and I could not feel more fortunate to have been given the opportunity, but it was still less than I had expected and in hindsight, it was totally my fault: I made the mistake of going with a tourist group (a group of about 25 people) on a large commercial boat. Reasons to not go with a large tourist group:
- Large Boats= Loud Engine. Loud Engines= Fewer Fish
- Tourist groups have their "spots", which means hundreds (maybe even thousands) of people have snorkeled or been scuba diving exactly where you are and despite the best efforts of the crew, many tourists have/will unknowingly damage the reefs
- I remember one woman in my group could not figure out the concept of a snorkel and wound up standing on the coral because she was nervous she wasn't going to be able to breathe comfortably. The Floridian in me was cringing because I knew that even touching the coral could kill it and I kept looking at the crew to say something. They never did. It then occurred to me that they face this everlasting dilemma of insulting their customers by yelling at them for standing on the reef or swallowing their pride and watching foreigners damage one of the most beautiful and at-risk wonders of their country without saying a word. Do everyone a favor and remind those around you that we are merely visitors and that we need to respect and protect our planet or face the possible consequences of having it taken away from us.
As sad as it is to acknowledge, the Great Barrier Reef is dying out faster than we expected. While there are multiple variants that are out of our hands that are contributing to this, humans are still playing a large role in the destruction of our natural reefs. We must do all that we can to slow down/stop it.
My recommendation for first time Great Barrier Reef Divers: if you can afford doing a private tour or even an over night excursion on the reef, do it. You will travel to parts of the reef that very few have been to before, allowing you to see an abundance of wildlife that you may not have seen otherwise.
AUSTRALIA IS ONE OF THE BEST PLACES ON EARTH
I truly believe this. I don't know a single person that has ever been to Australia and not considered moving there or talked about it incessantly for months on end. I would be lying if I said I haven't looked up flights and cost of living there because I've considered moving there too. My trip to Australia may have been short, but it changed my perspective on so many things. I didn't realize so many people could simultaneously balance living healthy lifestyles, be surrounded by so much natural beauty, and be so blissfully happy until I landed in Sydney. If you're fortunate enough to experience this side of Australia, consider yourself extremely lucky.