This interview is part of a series on Travel in Australia through the eyes of travellers. Backpacking Australia is popular for people on a working holiday Australia visa. Today we talk with Lauren Fritsky from the life that broke…
Please introduce yourself and tell us about your traveling experience?
I am Lauren Fritsky, a freelance writer, editor and blogger originally from NJ. I came to Australia on the work and holiday visa because I’ve always wanted to live abroad for a while. In addition to my travels here, I’ve been to 40 U.S. states, Mexico, Canada, the U.K., Ireland, France, Italy, China, New Zealand and the Caribbean island of St. Lucia.
How long have you been in Australia and what places have you seen so far?
I have been in Australia almost 12 months. I have lived in Sydney the entire time, but have travelled to Melbourne and its outside areas, like Great Ocean Road and Phillip Island, in addition to: Brisbane, Gold Coast, Byron Bay, Adelaide, Cairns/the Great Barrier Reef, Coffs Harbour, the Central Coast, Hunter Valley, the Blue Mountains and the Southern Highlands.
What is your style of travel in Oz? Independent travel, group tours etc?
I usually travel solo to a location and then book group tours to the areas I want to see most. At least one full day or part of a day while away involves me going on foot to explore whatever city or town I’m in. I found that’s one of the best ways to find hidden gems in a place.
What type of accommodation do you mostly stay in? Is there a Hostel/Hotel/Campsite you love?
I almost always stay in a hostel, and I normally choose the YHA chain. They have proven to be mostly clean with good amenities and friendly, helpful staff.
Favorite city and why?
I heart Sydney. They have beautiful beach areas, wonderful places in which to hike and do other outdoor activities, ample pub and restaurant offerings and a consistent schedule of things to do, whether it be musical or art festivals, sporting events or holiday celebrations.
Favorite other region?
I really liked Brisbane, actually. A lot of people pan that city, but I thought it had a certain charm. I was there in the winter when they had decorated a lot of public places with knitted scarves–I enjoy public art projects immensely. I also liked the park areas and the riverfront, which seemed to bustle with everyone from families to young people looking for a good time in the form of pubs with live music.
Most over-rated place you visited?
I actually wasn’t that impressed with Melbourne. I almost moved there over Sydney due to the extremely positive reviews I read of Melbourne. It just didn’t do it for me the way Sydney does. I was only there once, so maybe I have to return a few more times to see if I can absorb its supposed charm.
How do you like the food? Favorite local meal?
I am not impressed with the food here in Australia. The lack of things like bagels, the small, overcooked gourmet pizzas and the often unseasoned pastas make me yearn for American fare. I am a quasi-vegetarian (I only eat poultry and seafood), so I’ve stayed away from kebabs and meat pies and lamb, some of the things Australia is most known for. I’d probably have to say the fish and chips is my favorite local food.
It’s no secret Australia is an expensive place to travel. What tips could you give on ways to keep expenses low?
Stay in hostels and buy your own food to cook in the communal kitchen while there. I think you should taste the local fare and beer in a place, but try to limit your self to maybe one nice meal while you’re there. Internet costs a lot here, so take advantage of free Wi-fi in places like McDonalds and local libraries.
Look for things you can do without paying for a tour, like go on nature walks with a picnic lunch, and if you want to book a group outing, do it through your hostel, where you can often get discounts. Sign up for a card like Hosteling International, which gives you discounts on some hostels and currency exchanges.
Buy train and bus tickets in the My10 packs to save a few bucks. To call home, skip the often-hefty prepaid phone option and use Google’s free international calling feature, which is available through all of 2011.
What inspired you to visit Australia? Have you always wanted to go there?
Australia was definitely always on the top of my list of places to see. I also wanted to live abroad, and I wanted it to be an English-speaking country. I first thought of England, but they make it a little harder for Americans to get casual visas there.
I was inspired to check out Australia as an option by a blogger whose site I found when still in the States. She was from Philadelphia, the city I lived in for nine years before coming abroad, and she told me over email what the application required and how it worked out for her. I decided about 10 months later to apply the work and holiday visa so that I could spend a year in another country and culture.
At what moment of your visit did it hit you that…”shit, I’m really in Australia?”
I think about a week in. I was having dinner with a fellow traveler I’d met while staying in a a hostel at Bondi Beach. We were right on the main street overlooking the ocean. The Australian Open was on in a bar next door. It was January, and the weather was gorgeous and I’d been swimming that day.
It was such a change from all the other cold Januaries I’d experienced. I remember I wrote in my blog that this was my “Aha, I’m here” moment.
I’m still laughing about….
The time I missed a flight home from Melbourne because I thought it was 6 p.m., but it was really 6 a.m. Thankfully, a Twitter buddy I’d met stayed with me a few hours, but I wound up holding a midnight vigil with myself in the Crown Casino until my 3 a.m. shuttle to the airport came to take me to my rebooked flight.
The people in Australia are….
fun-loving, without a doubt.
Australia has plenty of deadly inhabitants (snakes/spiders/Sharks/Crocs). Did you have any animal encounters that freaked you out?
During my first six weeks here, I went on a bushwalk near Palm Beach with a group. We passed some fishermen who said they’d just seen a brown snake. I assumed this just meant the snake was brown in color. Then my guide said, “That’s one of the most dangerous snakes in the world.” I kept asking if he was kidding–he wasn’t!
Thankfully, the snake retreated into the bush and we never actually saw it. Phew!
We are big sports fans down under. Did you get a chance to experience any of the local action live, or possibly watch a game in a pub with other Aussies?
I have been to live soccer, baseball and AFL games. They were all a ton of fun. I also watched a casual cricket game once. I’ve also watched several of these sports in pubs.
Australia is a big place. If someone only had 2-3 weeks to visit, what advice would you give them as far as regions to see and ways to get around?
Well, definitely Sydney, which could take up that entire time. I like to cram a lot into to my travels, so I’d probably say start in Cairns and do the Barrier Reef, head down to the outback (which I haven’t seen yet) and Alice Springs, cut over to Sydney for a few, take a jaunt to Melbourne and maybe fly out of there.
This type of itinerary would require all flights, but I know there are also cheap bus options if people want to do things like take a bus from Brisbane to Byron Bay and down along the NSW coast. I think it’s good to try to either see Melbourne or Sydney if you can’t do both and then go to a less urban place more known for natural wonders like northern Queenlands or the outback.
What do you feel are the MUST experiences people should have visiting Australia?
You have to see a kangaroo and/or a koala. You definitely have to explore nature while you’re here–I feel the access to it is one of Australia’s best assets. You have to get to the beaches, because they are gorgeous, and you have to get onto a boat or a ferry. I think people should have a go at something challenging physically, such as surfing scuba diving, bungee jumping, sky diving, etc. If you can’t, try snorkelling.
You should go to a pub and grab a pint, particularly while a sports game is on, and try a kangaroo steak, a kebab or meat pie or some kind of local fare. If you get the chance, try an Aussie activity like barefoot lawn bowls. You should get out into the outback or the country to see the differences in the country.
How do you research your travels in Oz? What resources do you use to figure out places to see, accommodation, flights etc?
I use Twitter to ask other travelers, expats and residents about places to go, things to do, the best bang for your buck, etc. I’ve looked at the WhyGo Australia site, and other Australia blogs.
I almost exclusively use Zuji to book flights, and often go straight to the YHA web site to book my hostels. A lot of my research involves just typing into Google and seeing what comes up—that’s how I chose which company to go with when I did my first scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef. I often will research to get a sense of what I want to do in a place, but not book until I get to the hostel so I can see if there are discounts.