After returning home from a year long expedition and adventure throughout Australia and Thailand I'm still getting accommodated to being back stateside. As anyone who's traveled for an extended period will tell you, it's hard being back home. Granted Australia is pretty Westernized, but the subtleties in culture and general philosophy are still pretty drastic.
Having been back for a little over a month now, I've had some time to reacclimatize and get myself back in a U.S. mindset. I've also had some time to reflect on my year abroad and realize the biggest mistake I made when traveling. Actually that's not right, I made it before I even started traveling, when I was still super anxious and worried that I would be homeless in the streets after just a few weeks. You see before I left for Australia I signed up for a work and travel program. If you're not familiar with this term and thinking about traveling abroad at some point during your research you will most likely come across a derivative of this idea.
Basically work and travel programs, promise a sense of security to interested young travelers in exchange for a fee. Some promise pre-lined up jobs before you even leave your home country, others promise a extensive database of companies they work with, basically guaranteeing you a job within a few weeks of landing. Here's the thing... it's a sham. They know people get anxious when they are getting ready to make such a life altering decision, and by offering a sense of security they bushwhack you into paying for services you will either never get, or don't need. If you're thinking about traveling to Australia or anywhere else and you're considering using a work and travel program, here are five reasons you should reconsider:
TRUST IN YOUR TRAVEL: 5 REASONS WORK/TRAVEL PROGRAMS ARE A SHAM
5. EXPLOITING FEAR
The main reason I joined with the company I did (Greenheart Travel) is because I was scared. I had traveled outside of the country before and I have a massive amount of work experience, but I was still worried that I would be stuck without a job, without a place to live, and my savings would burn up faster than jet fuel. When I found Greenheart, it seemed like the perfect solution. They had two options at the time, but have since cut down to just a single option, called the "Freestyle". For a mere $950 you can have access to their entire support system for the length of your stay. This includes access to job placement services, housing support services, and 24/7 customer support. In retrospect I can't believe I was this naive, but unfortunately for me I was. I didn't take a moment to consider that pretty much all the things they were offering were available for free with an internet connection. There are hundreds if not thousands of free job sites, and just the same amount if not more offering housing availability. But instead of using that thousand dollars as a cushion to get setup when I got there and find these things on my own, I spent it hoping someone else would do it for me, big mistake.
4. 3RD PARTY SERVICES
The next thing I realized upon arrival and receiving new emails from a different company was that Greenheart Travel is a 3rd party travel service. Many of these companies are based out of the U.S. and act as 3rd party sign-up services for the actual companies who will be taking over those duties upon arrival. This was something I should have also figured out sooner, seeing that Greenheart is actually based out of Chicago (so how the heck could they help me in Australia). Essentially these companies act as a sign-up service for the actual companies overseas. I don't know what the exact figures are but I would have to assume this means they receive a portion of your sign-up fee then pass the rest off to the next company you will be involved with, mine being WTC (The Work Travel Company). So all the correspondence and rapport I had built with my Greenheart rep was now traded for someone totally new, that I didn't know, with a different company in Australia.
3. ORIENTATION: YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR?
What I did get for my money was a 3-night stay in a fairly decent hostel upon my arrival in Sydney with transport from the airport and help setting up my new bank account. All things that eased the transition coming to a new country, but worth $950? On the second day after my arrival we went to an orientation with the new company who would now be taking over our services. Aside from getting slightly acquainted with Australian culture and some general guidelines, basically this "orientation" was just a time-share pitch. They continued to try and get us to purchase additional services (once again playing into our fears) and they even had a representative from a surf camp come in and try to sell everyone on spending another $500 to learn how to surf (it was the middle of winter at this point).
Aside from helping in setting up our bank accounts we learned that everything we had been promised was all "almost" true. They did have an extensive list of clients and job opportunities, but it was up to us to scroll through and find them they wouldn't be actively sending out applications on our behalf. And they did have some recommend housing options available, but they were all with companies and residencies that would receive a kick back should we sign with them. The biggest blow here however, was when I found out that jobs available and the "full service" was only available in the city limits. This means 95% of the jobs they had access to were within Sydney, and if you were to travel outside of Sydney, you were pretty much on your own in securing work. Some people may be different, but I didn't go all the way to Australia to stay in one city the whole freaking time.
2. THE TRUTH ABOUT HOUSING
Australia is SUPER expensive, like ridiculously expensive. Now is a great time to go because the American dollar is so strong, but at the time of my arrival is was pretty much even. The estimates I received when initially talking with Greenheart, was to expect to spend around $40 a day, except a single one room apartment in Sydney (and not even a nice one at that) can go for upwards of roughly $300/week (they charge by the week not the month). According to those estimates I'm already in about a -$3/day hole without even eating, drinking, or shopping yet. What they don't tell you, but what you quickly find out on your own is that most backpackers do something called "shared housing". Basically cramming as many people as they can into a single room or apartment. Still expensive for what you're actually getting, but much cheaper than attempting to get a place on your own. For example I had a friend from Holland who was paying about $150/week to stay in a three-bedroom apartment, with 11 other people!
If you want even a remote amount of your own space, you usually have to get out of the cities, but to get work you have to be within the city limits or deal with transit. But here's the thing, there are soooooo many places available for much cheaper if you can get a little outside the city limits. Australia is filled with travelers and housing is super accommodating to that life style (part of the reason rent is weekly). There are also numerous websites, the main being GumTree (think Aussie Craigslist) that have thousands of postings for anything from rooms to bikes. I ended up not staying in Sydney, which meant I didn't use WTC's housing services, but I did download the free GumTree app and had no problem finding places to stay wherever I went.
1. THE TRUTH ABOUT FINDING WORK
Are you a highly functioning, intelligent, outgoing individual? Heck, are you even slightly articulate and speak english? If so, you will have ZERO problems finding work overseas. My biggest fear when leaving was that I would blow through my savings because I couldn't find a place to work. The reality was, without any assistance from WTC I was able to find work within two days in every city I went to. Granted, I'm in hospitality and have been for a long time, and it's easier to find something in serving or bar tending than any other profession, but if you have ANY real life work experience and you're not completely incompetent, you can get a job without much effort at all.
I wanted to meet people, go out, and have fun, and for me working in bars was the perfect way to do that. But even if you don't have hospitality experience you can find jobs everywhere. GumTree again, is a great resource for this, but even walking around town handing out resumes at any place that looks cool will almost certainly get you an interview or two. The other thing plays back into the travel culture overseas, most people don't expect you to stay very long, especially if your on a work/travel visa. So you can simply get a job, any job, to make some money (minimum wage is like $14/hour but most places pay more), and in your spare time find something else you wanna do more. The problem with the WTC jobs is that aside from one or two cool event jobs, most of what they offered was physical labor based, and only part-time (or one-time only). Now there's nothing wrong with physical labor, but their are super strict regulations for working in Australia, which means you have to take a course (offered through your travel company), and buy certain work clothes/equipment (which costs a pretty penny) and even if you work a job it's not guaranteed. I've heard a few stories of people getting qualifications and appropriate clothing, that actually ended up spending more money on getting the job then they made from the job itself.
The point is if you want to travel, you should save up, sell your shit, and go. And if you're brave enough to make such a life altering decision, then you should trust yourself to hit the ground running when you get wherever it is you want to go. By simply saving money, doing your research, and being smart about how you travel, you can rest assured that the only person you need to depend on to get you a job and housing overseas... is you.