Planning a big travel adventure can seem pretty daunting if you’ve never done it before. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into a year long trip, and a lot of things to take into account… things you maybe never even thought about. I was in exactly that position this time last year, embarking on my first solo trip. Australia is the perfect place to go for your first solo expedition. It’s easy to get around, the people are friendly and they speak English. Everything is pretty much the same as the UK, only with a much better climate and it’s a hell of a lot bigger.
I know of a few people who have come up to me and said they want to do what I did, but have no idea how. Where are to stay? What flights to book? How did I get around Australia? Suitcase or backpack?
Lucky for you, I’ve already dealt with these things a million times. Probably quick literally. I’ve done the hostels; I’ve taken the flights; and I’ve definitely got some advice for those of you thinking of doing the same. As I only have Australian Gap Year experience, I obviously can only talk about life down under.
Before you set off, there’s a lot of behind the scenes things to get organised. Presuming your visa has already been granted (mine only took 2 days), the next thing you’ve got to think about is what you’re gonna put your stuff in. There’s a lot of talk and debates about whether a suitcase or backpack is the better option, and honestly it depends on where you want to go. If you’re planning to visit Asia during you’re year in Australia, I would recommend a backpack. However if you are like me and are only going to be in Australia, then a suitcase would be ideal. The land is pretty much all flat so you’ll have no wheel issues. If you think you can handle carrying a backpack around in 40 degree heat in the summer, then just you go for it.
Then it’s time to start booking flights. I chose to fly with Emirates the first time around and I was not disappointed. Because it’s such a long flight you’ll be on, it’s better to spend more to get a better quality airline. There’s nothing worse than choosing the cheap option and then getting no sleep because you are so uncomfortable, resulting in major jet lag. I’ve also flown with Qatar Airways which was pretty good, but I’d still choose Emirates any day.
High season is December right the way through until end of February on Australia’s East Coast. Of course everyone wants to travel during Summer so this is when trips sell out quickly and buses are packed. This takes away the best part of travelling, spontaneity, because you have to book in advance. I started travelling at the end of January 2016, and from experience I would recommend going around March. The busy-ness is starting to calm down at this point, but the weather is still fabulous and hot. And if you are going for a year, then it really doesn’t matter when you choose to start. You’re going to see every month there anyway!
Going alone? No worries at all. Most people I met were in exactly the same boat: doing it solo. You will meet the most amazing people, and because you will all be alone…. you can be alone together. However, I did have some fears of doing it by myself beforehand. That’s when I discovered UltimateOz.
This is a tour group who organise a whole week in Sydney for you, activities and accommodation. You will be with the same group for 7 days, sharing your first Aussie experiences together which makes the transition into Aussie lifestyle a lot easier. I got to do a lot of cool stuff on my first week. Now I can say I’ve been sand boarding, camping on a beach, and sailed around Sydney Harbour on a booze boat. Not bad for my first week in Australia, right?
The company helps set you up with a bank account and medicare, along with being there to help book onward travels: no matter where in Australia you are. Included in the price, you get access to a private backpackers job website, which was actually where I landed my first Aussie job. And to top it off, they give you a mailbox which makes getting mail whilst travelling around so much easier. They can even forward you the letters and parcels you receive once you get a more permanent address. I can not recommend UltimateOz enough, and I’ve just heard they are starting to expand their business. Now you can go to Bali, Thailand, and South Africa with them. So if Australia isn’t for you, you’ve got plenty options to get you started.
Now it’s getting closer to your big trip and it’s time to pack. What do you take? My advice would be to lay out all the clothes you think you will need, then half it.
I took things I ended up never wearing which was an absolute waste of space in my suitcase. Take plain items of clothing, or stick to a colour theme. Just make sure everything matches with everything, then you will have an unlimited wardrobe. This was a god send to me. Now all my clothes are blue, or match with blue so I have endless combinations. I will strongly advise on taking a pair of jeans/trousers as it does get cold in Australia. You may not think it does and decide to not listen to me, but you will regret that and sooner or later realise I was right whilst shivering on the beach somewhere.
(You might need an umbrella too, it also rains).
When it comes to technology, keep it basic. If you have a tablet or an iPad, that’s amazing – take it! I’d recommend an iPad over a laptop for travelling. With a laptop you need a big charger, and a case and it takes up a fair bit of room. Whereas if you have an iPad, they are so much slimmer and can do the job just the same.
Don’t take a camera. If you’ve got a good quality camera on your phone, use that. I took my Lumix camera the first time around, and I won’t be doing it again. It’s just another thing that takes up room in your bag, along with another charger.
Now possibly the most important point.
For a first timer, hostels can definitely be a daunting and intimidating prospect. The idea of sharing a room with complete strangers in beds that have been used by 100s of people before you, is kind of disgusting. But, you are about to be a traveller and it’s the cheapest option out there. Hostels are how you make friends, learn even more tips from experienced travellers, and after all…you only need a bed and a shower. You’ll be in the most beautiful places, and I can assure you that you’ll hardly be in your room. I mean you’re there to see places, not review hostel rooms. Try to steer clear of hostels that don’t have good reviews, that goes without saying. If you are ever in doubt about where to stay, find a YHA.
YHA is a fabulous hostel company, where you’ll hardly ever get a bad hostel. They are trusted amongst travellers as one of the best hostels to stay at, and for very good reason. They are always clean, secure and most of the time fairly modern. On average you’ll be looking to spend about $23 dollars a night in a dorm room, depending on size. It’s fairly cheap, as that’s only around £13.
All you’ve got left to do now, is start planning your Aussie adventure. If I can give you only one tip, it’s to have no plan. You will meet people and decide you want to travel with them, or you’ll end up falling in love with a place and wanting to stay a bit longer. Nothing is ever set in stone, plans can change within seconds. Just go with the flow, and be a traveller not a tourist.