I’ve lived in a village for pretty much my whole life. Apart from a brief stint living in Jaipur while I was volunteering with VSO, and a short stay in Lekazi (a township in Mpumalanga, South Africa) during my work for Tenteleni, most of my time has been spent living the stereotype of idyllic, British country life.
Melbourne, where I’m living now, is not the biggest, nor the busiest city I’ve ever visited. But it sure is a step up from my tiny home village of just over 3000 people. If you find yourself wandering the streets at 2am back home, you can be fairly sure you aren’t going to bump into anyone. Out on the street at 2am in Melbourne, you’d be more confused if you didn’t see anyone. 2am is prime-time for people stumbling to the next bar, queuing for McDonald’s, or having (loud) drunken arguments, with little regard for people trying to sleep, four floors up (me). So Melbourne isn’t the biggest or the busiest, but it sure is a city.
Perhaps the reason I felt so instantly at home here, though, is the fact that even for a village lass, Melbourne is very manageable. For a start, it doesn’t have that choked up urban feel that you get from some cities: there are so many green, open spaces, and enough tree-lined avenues to make the whole place feel like one big suburb. And it’s easy to get out of the city, as the CBD is itself fairly compact: a ten-minute tram ride in pretty much any direction can deposit you into a new and different surrounding area. The suburbs are worthy of a visit in themselves – there are so many of them! There’s St. Kilda, with the beach and all the backpackers; Fitzroy with its edgy shops and cafes (and people); South Melbourne with a family vibe and myriad cafes. I could go on. Each suburb has its own crowd and character: I could happily spend a couple of weeks exploring the outskirts alone. And no place is short of great, quirky places to eat and drink. Melbourne is a tough place to be if you want to stick to a budget – not because it isn’t feasible, just because there are so many and varied temptations to test your resolve.
I was in that exact position for a little while when I first arrived. I was lucky to have a flat already sorted by the time I got here (thanks to Molly, my very organised roomie), but the job hunt wasn’t quite so forthcoming in its rewards. I applied for over a hundred jobs before I landed one – and have since realised the evident advantage of applying to places in person rather than online. Much as I hate it, I think handing out CVs is definitely the way to go when you’re a backpacker. A useful lesson, I’m sure.
With rent day coming round more often and quicker than I’d have believed it (and somehow, paying rent on a flat is a much bigger deal than paying rent to a hostel) – it sure was a relief to be employed. More than just a relief, in fact – because wages in Australia are a little bit beyond belief: $23 an hour for your bog-standard hospitality job (that’s about £14 at the current, admittedly terrible, exchange rate). So I could hypothetically become richer than I’ve ever been just by taking on your average bar job for a few months. Pretty exciting, huh? Of course, those riches are without a doubt going to be spent on more fun and exciting travels. What else is money for?
Anyway, I’m strangely settled for the time being, just four months into my grand adventure. I have a flat with a good pal, a job working with some great people, and no plans to leave. It’s a bit bizarre that my current life doesn’t differ all that much from those friends back home who’ve chosen to go straight into adulthood. Albeit my job isn’t a career, and I happen to be on the other side of the world. Minor details, though.
But I love it here. Melbourne has things going on all the time; it’s got culture and events galore – which is pretty thrilling after several months of tiny beach towns and a lot of ‘chilling’ down the east coast. I’ve been to watch the Australian Open (turns out it’s a pretty big deal here), I’ve celebrated Chinese New Year (for the first time ever, I think), I’ve visited night markets and day markets; museums and open-air cinemas. It’s a pretty great life. And though I am just a tad jealous of Phea, who is currently living the high life in Bali, I’m actually enjoying this weird, mid-travel pause, which feels a lot like real life. I can watch the telly all evening, on my own sofa in my own flat; I can stream an entire series of Grey’s Anatomy if I want to because the WiFi actually works; I can actually cook a pizza because we have an oven. All these things are novel and exciting in a way that is only comprehensible when you have spent your fair share of time without them. I find myself appreciating the opportunity to just do nothing, as well as the opportunity to walk down the road and within minutes find several edgy coffee shops and a rooftop bar or two.
I just can’t quite believe that I’ve been here a month already. But I’m looking forward to the next!