Monthly Archives: February 2013

And Now For Something Completely Different


Before leaving the US I knew I wanted to spend each week of my six-week Australian Adventure in a different city. I intended to have the first several weeks planned out before arriving but that didn’t happen, so I landed in Sydney only sure of where I was staying the first week and zero plans after that. I also knew I wanted to make my trip more affordable by doing some work exchange, in my case through a website called helpx.

I first heard about work exchange through my good friend Amy Boone (I told you I’d give you credit!). A few years ago, probably while working on a project at her or my place, I recall her saying something like “I’m thinking about going to work at a winery for a month in Italy. You just work a few hours per day and they give you a place to sleep and feed you.” At the time I thought- and probably said out loud- “You are out of your ever-livin’ mind. That sounds like a scam and you’re going to get killed.” Well, as I sit here typing this, 10,000 miles away from all I’ve ever known in the home of complete strangers, I can say that it’s not a scam and I haven’t been killed.

So what is it? Put simply, you work at someone’s farm, winery, home, ranch, whatever, and they give you a place to sleep and (usually) three square meals. Every host is unique in the type of work you’ll be doing, the number of hours required, whether or not meals are provided, accommodations, etc, so you have to do your homework to find a good fit. Great opportunities fill up fast so don’t procrastinate (like I did). Hosts like personable people and are happy to integrate you into their daily lives.

So where am I? I’m outside of a sleepy little town called Bellingen, population 2600, in an even sleepier little town (they call it a Shire but I’ve yet to see a hobbit) called Fernmount. When I say sleepy I’m not kidding. The main town has a police department… that’s active Monday through Friday. The courthouse is open only on Thursday. The mailman delivers mail on a motorcycle. It’s Mayberry and it’s adorable.

I’m staying with a wonderful couple out in the country who have the most amazing five-acre property full of native plants, trees, and critters. See that pic above? That’s the view off their deck toward free-roaming moo cows. I may have found the best work exchange opportunity in all of Australia. My hosts require four hours per day of work in exchange for my own private room, private bath, and all the food I can eat. When I get tired or famished from the heat I’m welcome to laze around by their salt water pool. Kevin is a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge about wildlife, flora, and the history of Bellingen. Both my hosts have decades of experience working with wildlife in zoos and conservation. I could go on and on. So far I’ve helped work on a deck, repaired a screen door, and done quite a bit of outdoor painting on the house. My hosts appreciate the quality of my work and it feels good to be doing honest labor for such a worthy reward. And they haven’t killed me.

Thanks Amy. 😉

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You may have noticed in my last post that I spent only $313 on lodging for seven nights in Sydney, a city that has a cost of living higher than London, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, and New York City. Did I stay in youth hostels and sleep in a room with six of my closest strangers? Nope. Did I buy camping gear and sleep under the stars? Nope, although that might have been nice. I used the services of my new best friend, Airbnb. Full dislosure: if you book a stay by clicking on that link I get 25 bucks.

If you’re a seasoned traveler then Airbnb is old news, but many people I talked to back home had never heard of it. I first used Airbnb to book several days in Denver and Boulder, Colorado and I had a great experience. The premise is pretty simple: you want to visit a cool city but don’t want to stay in a boring Motel 6 and someone in said cool city has an extra room he or she is not using. Voila! Airbnb fills the gap and lets travelers search for renters, kinda like but without the expensive dinner and ignored follow-up call.

You can save a bunch of money using Airbnb. I think I spent $40/night for my stay in Sydney, on top of which the service adds a percentage for their cut. I stayed with a late-20s college Doctoral student who wasn’t there most of the time. I had my own private room with a full-size bed, desk, etc, and a shared bathroom. My host knew a ton about the area, cooked dinner a few nights, gave me tips on getting around via trains and buses, let me borrow a bike (all three hosts I’ve stayed with have let me borrow bikes, which is an awesome way to explore a new city), and told me which off-the-beaten-path areas to check out. Sure, there are even cheaper lodging options. I just did a quick search and you can get in a hostel for $28/night but are you going to leave your huge backpack in the room when you want to go out exploring? Or I guess you could hang out with the pinky up crowd at the Hilton Sydney for $430/night (good lord).

So I think Airbnb is pretty great, but you have to be smart about it. Look at lots of available renters, get on google maps and research the area in which they live, read their reviews carefully. Think of it like ebay; you wouldn’t PayPal someone a hundred bucks if they had a bunch of negative reviews. Oh, that’s another thing- the website takes care of all monetary transactions. You request to stay with a host on certain dates, the host agrees, you pay the website by credit card, done. No money changes hands between host and traveler.

Sorry for the informational posts lately, but I’ve started to get a real passion for helping people realize that they can afford to get out and travel. In our next exciting episode I’ll tell you what I’ve been up to since leaving Sydney.


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Week 1 Costs

People get funny when talking about money. Whether it’s your salary, 401k value, new car price, or how much a trip costs, no one wants to come across as a pretentious braggart. Well, stuff costs money, and people spend their money in different ways. With that in mind I’m going to borrow an idea from my friends over at OneSixtyK and provide a weekly breakdown of what it’s costing me to hang out over here in Australia. My hope is that it helps someone plan for his or her own trip.

Continue reading

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Currency in a foreign land


Money, scratch, dinero, coin, cash, moolah. Money doesn’t buy happiness but it does buy a cab ride or a falafel from a street vendor. Sure, credit cards are pretty much accepted eveywhere these days but cash is still king, which is why one of the first things you should become comfortable with in another country is their currency.

Six days ago I landed in Australia- the first time I had ever been on foreign soil (except for a trip to the Bahamas which doesn’t count). I went to the magic money machine at the airport (don’t do this, just use an ATM in the city), stuck in $200 US dollars and received A$161.80 in return. 😦 Of course I hadn’t researched Australian currency one bit so all of the sudden I had a bunch of colored pieces of paper and weird coins that felt about as useful to me as Monopoly money. It was intimidating but I found that you get the hang of it pretty quickly and cashiers will help you out even if they think you’re stupid.

Check out the pic above. The first thing I noticed is that Australian paper money comes in different sizes, getting smaller as the denomination decreases. I can only assume their A$100 is bigger than the A$50. There’s also a little transparent section on each bill which is kind of cool. Ok, so no big deal with the paper money. Where you can get in trouble is with the coins. See that little goldish one on the far right? That’s a A$2 coin and next to it is a A$1. In the US if you have a pocket full of change you might have, at best, three bucks or so (yeah we have $1 coins but when was the last time you used one?). Over here you could have A$20 in your pocket! Why their second smallest coin carries the most worth is a mystery to me.

So anyway, it doesn’t take long to get used to it. I guess the lesson is that in Australia you need to be more mindful of the little change in your pocket goin’ jing-a-ling-a-ling.

P.S. – for the curious: the coins across the bottom are, from left to right, $0.05, $0.10, $0.20, $0.50, $1.00, $2.00. I haven’t seen anything smaller than five cents.

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Taronga Zoo

The other day I continued my tourist adventure of Sydney by visiting the Taronga Zoo. Like any red-blooded American, I’ve been to the zoo countless times. I was hoping for a unique experience on a completely different continent and that’s exactly what I got. The zoo was clean, well laid out, and staff were friendly. It’s across the harbor from downtown Sydney so you have to hop on a ferry, which was about a $10 round trip. From the ferry you’ll get up close and personal to the opera house as well as good photo ops of the harbour bridge.

I really want to edit some of these pics but a 7″ tablet makes that painful. I’d also love to post more pics and comment on a few but they take forever to upload and I’m tired of sitting in this apartment. Yesterday’s adventure involved borrowing a bike and a 25k roundtrip to the beach (that was interesting in a country that drives on the “wrong” side of the road) and today will be museum day (to avoid the sun and nurse my sunburn).

Without further adieu, the pics:

And a video just for fun…


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