I have been in the Land Down Under for two weeks now and I absolutely love it! In fact, I’ve loved it so much that I’m a week late on my blog post for my first week in Sydney! So here it is, better late than never.
The Plane Ride
My total flight time from Birmingham to Sydney was 24 hours. I had three different connections, but overall the flight wasn’t too bad! My longest leg (from LAX to Sydney) was supposed to be almost 15 hours, but we ended up landing an hour early! Thankfully, I didn’t feel too bad getting off the plane since I slept in intervals of about 30 minutes (totaling to 3 or 4 hours) and I even got my row to myself (yay, yay!).
I was expecting to be delayed in customs upon my arrival, but I walked right on through and didn’t get stopped. Since I didn’t have anything to claim (no food or medicine), I suppose this is why it was easy for me. I really thought they were going to check all my bags, but I am glad that didn’t happen.
Arriving in Sydney
I had already made myself a to-do list for when I landed in Sydney! Some of these things like getting a SIM card for my phone or opening up a bank account are really for expats only, so I’ll cover this information in another post. Here is what I learned my first week in Sydney (and oh, have I learned more, but I’ll save this for later):
1. Opal Card
Buy an Opal card as SOON as you land in Sydney! You can pick one up in the airport. Opal cards can be used for all Public Transportation: Train, Light Rail, Ferry, and Bus (signs for these will have a circle around the first letter of each). When using the train, mind the gap! There are signs everywhere and you’re even told this while getting on/off the train, but know that the train is not right on the platform – there’s a gap, so watch your step! Also, I don’t know if it’s from the Harry Potter movies, but I get so excited when I walk up to Central Station and find my platform! And here’s a tip: on Sundays you can travel for $2.50 max!
2. Sun Protection
Wear sunscreen. Always, even if you’re not going to be outside that long. The sun is so intense here. I’ve found that while waiting to cross the street I find shade to take cover in. I managed to stay pretty fair in sunny Orlando, but within four days of being in Sydney I had a tan.
3. Emergency Number: 000
Australia’s 911 is 000. I always feel like it’s important to know some safety information before you travel in another country. Make sure you know the emergency number, the location of the closest hospital, and the U.S. Embassy. This information is listed in my phone. Since I’m staying for a year I also signed up for STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program), so if there are any safety or security issues in Australia I’ll get an alert. I even go so far as to Google map these places from the place I’m staying just in case.
Navigating Sydney is a breeze. I am directionally challenged and I find it easy to get around Sydney. The rail system is great and the streets are easy to navigate. I have my two main streets (George and Elizabeth Street) and as long as I can find either one I’m fine. On my third day I even gave someone directions! How crazy! Even when I’m unsure of where I am, I’m no longer completely lost, I have some sense of direction. I no longer get a panicky feeling anymore when I’ve made a wrong turn and feel I’ll never make it home and I’ll be lost forever!
5. Left Side
Stay to the left! Yes, cars drive on the left and people walk on the left side. Just like the Brits. When you walk up the stairs you have to stay to the left (especially in the train stations). I weaved for the first few days, but by day six it was no longer a conscious effort to walk on the left. I’m feeling Aussie already!
You’ll be walking, a lot. The one thing I was really nervous about on this trip wasn’t being in another country or living out of a backpack, it was not having a car. But after one week, I don’t miss driving. And with Australians driving on the left side and all of the pedestrians in the city, I’m honestly kind of glad I’m not driving. Plus, I actually love walking everywhere! There’s so much to see and so many shops to peek in. You’ll be doing a lot of walking in Sydney, so don’t wear sandals. Don’t wear heels. Don’t wear flats without any support. Wear comfortable walking shoes or tennis shoes. Your feet will thank you. And really, if you have sore feet one or two days into your trip it kind of puts a damper on the rest of your time, doesn’t it?
Take your own water! Bottled water costs around $3.00. Bring your own and try to refill when you have the chance. I have a Platypus water bottle, so when it’s empty I can fold it flat. I’ve found that this is really convenient if I don’t have a purse to put a water bottle in. And if you didn’t know this already, Australia’s seasons are opposite from the U.S. So even though it’s February and cold in the states, I landed in the heat when I got to Sydney. In fact my first two days here almost hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit (or 40 degrees Celsius). So I was drinking a lot of water! Some places don’t have A/C (or aircon as it’s called here), and for those places that do, the aircon isn’t set on a very cool temperature!
8. Aussie Slang
‘G’day, mate’ isn’t as common as you’d think. I have yet to hear it, which is somewhat disappointing. Although you won’t hear g’day very often, you will hear ‘no worries’ or ‘that’s alright’ a lot! It’s synonymous with ‘you’re welcome’. Which was slighting confusing to me at first. Usually when I say no worries it’s because someone is apologizing for something, so the first few times I heard it I kept thinking, “I didn’t do anything wrong”. But no worries! I knew that there really wouldn’t be a language barrier in coming to Australia, just some slang to pick up. And I’m learning already! Here’s another British thing: chips are fries in Australia.
9. Culture Shock
Surprise! There isn’t really a culture shock. There are American ads in the streets, American music playing in the shopping malls and streets, and even American products and food sold in stores! Did I even leave the states? I took backup makeup so that I wouldn’t have to find new brands my first two months into living in Australia, but ends up that I didn’t really need to. Although, the makeup is more expensive here.
There are American restaurants here as well: Burger King (aka Hungry Jack’s), McDonald’s (of course! It’s known in Oz as Macca’s – why? No idea), and Subway (who knew?). There are also 7 Elevens everywhere! I am so surprised by all the American brands in Sydney! I don’t know if the rest of Oz is like this, but Sydney doesn’t feel so foreign. The movie theaters mostly play American movies too. And even though I didn’t realize how much I’d be surrounded by familiar American culture, one reason I chose Australia as my first foreign country to live in is because I knew there wouldn’t be a huge culture shock. So success!
10. Friendly Aussies
Australians are friendly, but not as friendly as Southerners. I grew up in the South, so when I had heard Aussies were friendly I was expecting high level friendliness. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not unfriendly by any means, but Southerners have them beat, so if you’re from the South don’t expect the same type of friendliness. But perhaps this is just because I’m in the large city. Other places in Australia might be different, I’ll find out soon. Also, drivers in Sydney are NOT so friendly, they don’t mind honking their horns at every little thing!
11. Tim Tams
Tim Tams are life. They are these chocolate biscuits (heavenly cookies really) and they are delicious. You can buy them in the States, but they’re not the same. I happen to prefer the double coated chocolate ones, but I haven’t ventured out yet. There are all sorts of flavors to try & I think mint Tim Tams will be my next choice.
All the things you’ve heard are true. My first week in I had an encounter with a Huntsman spider. And let me tell you, Huntsman spiders are terrifying. I already don’t like itsy-bitsy spiders, so throw a gigantic monster spider in and I’m out. I am proud to say I didn’t scream when I saw it…but I couldn’t sleep that night.
13. Purchasing Alcohol
You can’t buy beer in a grocery store. Or wine. How are grocery stores still in business? By the way, Cole’s and Woolworths are the grocery stores you want to go to. Not being able to buy alcohol in a grocery store is one of my biggest complaints (and it’s not a huge deal, but it kind of is).
In Australia you have to buy alcohol from a liquor store. Wine is somewhat the same price as in the states, but a six pack will run you about $20 – and that’s for the cheap beer. Australia sells a lot of American beers: Corona, Blue Moon, Sam Adam’s (and please, oh, please let them sell Oktoberfest when it’s in season), and Stella – those are just the ones I’ve seen so far.
14. Body Art
Almost EVERYONE has a tattoo! Even business professionals. People don’t have to cover them up at work. And if you have crazy colored hair, apparently this isn’t a problem either at most places! You can be you here.
15. Rubbing Alcohol
One weird thing I have found is that Australia doesn’t have any true rubbing alcohol! They have alcohol wipes and then this strange rubbing alcohol lotion, which isn’t rubbing alcohol. Had I known, I would have put a huge bottle in my checked bag!
So wow! There are fifteen things I learned in my first week! I’m still learning, but I’m loving Sydney more the longer I’m here. Another thing I’ve noticed is that the prices in Sydney aren’t as high as I heard they were. Foodwise it depends on the location of the restaurant as to how expensive it is (of course touristy places in Circular Quay near the Opera House and Harbour Bridge will be more expensive than a place a little farther away). But most restaurants have good breakfast deals and great Happy Hours.
Be aware that some places have prices posted for ‘Take Away’ only (yes, it’s ‘take away’ not ‘take out’) and if you dine in the prices increase. The only expensive thing I’ve seen is rent! It’s crazy high. But I guess all in all since I’m using my credit card and the American dollar is stronger than the Australian dollar, I feel like I’m getting good deals on everything! But soon I will be using Australian currency so I won’t be getting ‘deals’ anymore.
Hotels are pricey, so if you’re looking for budget options and thinking about staying at a hostel, check Airbnb first! I’ve found that some places on Airbnb are either as cheap or cost a little more than a hostel, but since you have the option to get your own room without sharing with other people, it’s worth it! If you look for places outside of Sydney CBD (Central Business District instead of downtown), try to find something located near a train station. I promise it’s easy to get around!
Make sure you ask what all comes with the Airbnb place. The first place I stayed at didn’t have aircon, which turned out okay, but I was surprised at first. Having a washer and air drying clothes is also common here. I found it fun, like country living, but if you’re staying a week you might want something a little more convenient. Just make sure to figure out what you’re getting before you book.
My First Week Overall
Even though my first week has been spectacular, I have to admit, I am not really experiencing Sydney the way I want to. This first week I’ve been so focused on finding a job and then another place to stay when my AirBnB is up. So I haven’t really been exploring, but I have at least gone to the Opera House! It was breathtaking and as I walked around I kept thinking, “is this real? Am I really here?”
My to-do list is insanely long and as soon as I have an income (and I hope it’s soon, fingers crossed!), I will begin adventuring. And even though I’m apprehensive about not having a job, I feel lighter now that I’m out living the life I want to live. I’m more upbeat, friendly, and outgoing. I feel free. I am truly happy for the first time in years.
So all in all, Sydney is a great first place outside the U.S. for me to live! With no language barrier, hardly any culture shock, and the amazing sights to see here, I feel that Sydney is my new home away from home. I’m starting to feel a bit Aussie and that I can really do this after all! Now I just have to find a job! I’m so excited to explore more of my new home & then adventure around the rest of Australia. I love it here so far and cannot wait for all the adventures I’ll get to go on. Stay tuned!