Travel · Work Abroad

Looking Back: Thoughts on my Working Holidays

As I near the end of my second wonderful working holiday, I thought I’d put all the things I’ve learnt and all my thoughts on paper. Or keyboard. Don’t worry this isn’t some profound post about how I ‘found myself’, I simply want to compile a list of all my reflections on what I think is one of the best things to do if you’re young, able and have a insatiable desire to travel, move, experience and do.

First off, this isn’t a ‘how to’ post. I’m neither qualified nor even remotely capable of telling you ‘how to ace your working holiday’ or ‘the 10 things you need to know about working holidays’. Everyone is different and everyone will want to get different things out of their time abroad, so really the only ‘how to’ tip I can give is just bloody do it. 

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So, if it’s not a list of dos and don’ts, what is it? To be honest, just a list of ramblings and collections of thoughts that I’ve built up over the last 2 and a half years of working holidays. My first, beginning in 2014, was a year in Melbourne. I followed this with a brief stint back home and a four-month trip to South America with my Boyfriend. We then flew from Colombia to New Zealand where we’re now coming to the end of one of the most rewarding years of my life. A lot’s changed since 2014. I’ve gained a lot (tattoos, a boyfriend, a few sneaky extra pounds thanks to the Wellington foodie scene) and learnt even more:

You can’t really plan it.

I guess one of the most important things I’ve learnt is how great a feeling it is to arrive in a new country with next-to-nothing planned and slowly build your life over the following months. It’s a nice feeling as you slowly start to tick off your list; a bank account, a phone, a job, a place to stay and, most importantly, a life. Sure, you do some of these things ahead of time but, to be honest, you don’t need to. I can’t speak for every country but in Australia and New Zealand it’s pretty easy to get the essentials sorted once you’re there. If I could give one bit of advice it would be do not pay for a company to ‘set you up’. It’s a waste of money and so unnecessary. Definitely do not pay for a company to sort your visa. Applying for a Working Holiday Visa is legit the easiest thing. It takes about 10 minutes and an intelligent monkey could probably manage it just fine on their own.

The importance of embracing change and trusting the process.

When I landed in Melbourne I had grand plans. Fresh out of uni and having just graduated in International Business, I was going to land a sick job in the city at some awesome marketing agency. Ha. I probably could have tried a bit harder, to be honest, but my stop-gap bar job turned out to be so ridiculously fun and so much a part of why I had the best year that I just sort of… stayed. I initially arrived thinking I might try to fit Melbourne and Sydney into my time in Oz (which I didn’t think would be a full year), but ended up staying in Melbourne the whole time and I don’t regret that decision one bit. Similarly, I set my sights a bit lower second time around in New Zealand and applied for temping and more bar jobs, but ended up landing my dream job in Marketing and Communications. Pretty sweet.

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You have to be at little bit realistic.

One of the main reasons I was so open to these changes was because, quite honestly, I had to be. If I’d have been stubborn and held out for some elusive Marketing job, I’d have been broke pretty quick and probably back on the plane to the UK within a month. The Working Holiday visa (WHV) is designed to do just that; work a bit, travel a bit, work a bit more, etc etc. Obviously not everyone does this and plenty of people stick around in one place for their whole year but – and this is the important bit – employers don’t really make the distinction. If you go in and apply for a job and you’re on a WHV, you’re immediately a bit of a flight-risk. As much as you say you’ll be around for a whole year, they can’t always count on that. You’re also, at that point, only in the country for a year so it’s maybe a bit too much investment for employers when you shoot more professional ‘career-type’ roles, who don’t want to spend time and money onboarding and training you, only for you to flit off again 12 months later. For them, it’s quite frankly a lot easier to hire a resident. Having said that, there’s no reason to say a WHV can’t lead you to these more ‘professional’ roles, you just maybe have to be a little bit more realistic in your quest.

Thinking ahead and setting yourself some goals pays off.

If, however, there’s one big burning desire or something you definitely want to get out of your WHV, make a plan and stick to it. In Australia, for example, you can do three months regional work (this is what everyone is on about when they talk about their ‘farm work’) to extend your visa for another year. For a lot of (sensible) people, they get this out of the way when they land. Although I don’t regret anything about my year, I do often think about how great it would have been to get to the end of my year and have another one to look forward to. I didn’t. I was too caught up in my wonderful Melbourne lifestyle to ever think about leaving to go work on a farm for three months and then – bam – I only had three months of my visa left so the option was no longer there. If you think you might want to stay longer, desperately want to experience a certain city or know you want to gain experience in a specific job, you should really do all you can to make that happen.

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So does thinking long-term.

Yes I’ve gone on about living in the moment and going with the flow, but a WHV isn’t always just a WHV and plenty of people end up sticking around longer-term. I have definitely learnt about really thinking about this at the start of the year. Even though we’ve decided against it in the end, when my Boyfriend and I landed in New Zealand we knew we wanted to try for sponsorship or for staying around as long as possible, so we thought realistically about how best to achieve that. It’s a lot easier to get sponsored in some professions than others, and this changes from country to country. So if you’re thinking about staying longer-term than a WHV, it pays to do your research to find out what/where you need to be. For example, a lot of people I know who got sponsored in Oz are chefs and hairdressers. Bartending and wait staff not so likely. In New Zealand, being a Bar or Restaurant Manager is actually quite likely to land you sponsorship if you prove your worth!

The best bit about a WHV is the freedom and how unpredictable it it.

There’s something about only being in a country for a year. It’s like nothing matters as much, and I mean that in a good way. Back home, you might feel pressured to be in your ‘career’ or to be saving shit loads for a house or working towards some grand goal. On a WHV, there’s not much point in all that and that’s actually very liberating. I often stressed out unnecessarily that I was sacrificing my career for WHVs, that I’d be so behind all my friends when I got home and that I wasn’t ‘doing anything with my life’. That was bullshit. Embrace the lack of pressure. You can accept the year as it comes, take every opportunity that comes your way, make friends and memories and moments and just take them as they come. You can’t have everything set out for you, what happens happens and, like our Mums always told us all along, everything that does happen does so in the right way, in the right moment. It all works out in the end… just trust it!

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