MaptheGap.co.uk chats with Andrew Turner about his gap year experience backpacking and working around Australia.
First things first, money is an issue for a lot of backpackers -how did you fund your gap year?
I worked throughout college and university in a local pub and they were more than happy for me to work full time after uni finished, until I left to go travelling in Australia in January. I planned to go and work whilst I was there, so with tips, 48 hours a week and overtime at Christmas, I was able to afford flights and travel money to go.
So, having sorted out the finance side of things, what did you decide to do during your gap year?
After I worked for the first half of the year I decided to travel around Australia. I didn’t set out with concrete plans other than I knew that I wanted to do the whole east coast.
I found a great company called Oz Intro who organised my first week in Oz as well as my visa, a bank account, a sim card and a medi care card. It was great as I was travelling alone and straight away I was put in touch with a group of backpackers. I had a brilliant time and made loads of great mates.
Oz Intro then helped me to plan my backpacking experience, by booking excursions, offering advice and letting me know about things that I wouldn’t have even considered a possibility. Knowing this, I didn’t have much set in stone other than starting in Sydney, flying to Cairns and working my way down to Brisbane, where I would meet my partner who was coming out for three weeks to do Fraser Island and the Whitsundays with me. After she went my plan was to carry on travelling down the coast until I reached Melbourne, where I was flying home from.
Being travel though, plans will inevitably change. What did you actually end up doing?
Well, I got ‘stuck’ in Sydney for about six weeks due to really bad flooding in the North of Queensland. Cairns was a no go area at this time, people were waking up with crocodiles on their porches! So instead of travelling straight there and working down, I found work in Sydney for six weeks and then flew to Cairns to begin a work free trip down the coast.
Did you plan meticulously every step the way or did you just decide to wing it?
I planned very little before I went and winged it a lot. I knew what I wanted to do, but not when. It was great though because I could book an open ended ticket for my flight and ring up once I had decided when I wanted to go. This was perfected for me, and I presume most backpackers, as most of your time is spent in the moment.
You never know who you are going to meet on the road and often find yourself booking things with people you have just met along the way. If I had to set a date from the outset I would have missed doing things with the friends I made during my travels.
However, some planning is necessary, otherwise you will find you spend all your time and money in one place. I met at least one person who did this everywhere I went. They had to call home for more money or actually go home as they had made no plans and were out of cash before they had done anything.
What was the best experience you had on your gap year?
Fraser Island was the best weekend of my life, I’d met a great group of people on my travels and we all co-ordinated to do it together, my girlfriend had come over and everyone from our group and all the groups I met on the way met there got on great! This meant an amazing weekend in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to.
Skydiving was immense also, falling through the sky, with the rainforest and Great Barrier Reef below. It was amazing!
To be fair I could go on, every aspect of the trip was unique and exhilarating and I wouldn’t change it for the world, especially the people I met and friends I made.
What was the worst?
Coming home!! Does that count?
What advice would you give to someone planning their gap year now?
Firstly, make sure you actually go! A lot of people plan but never make it. Know where you want to go, but leave yourself open to change. If you want to do the east coast and you have a time frame to do it in, great, but don’t plan every day. You will find that you budget for four days in one place and eight in another, but as the guide books suggest, one is better.
If you remain flexible you can see everything and won’t be locked in to self imposed time constraints, which mean missing out on the little things that makes each backpacker’s trip special.