Earn Well on a Working Holiday in Sydney

CONTRIBUTED BY DAN KELSO (via personal interview in Thailand)

Maybe you want to travel the world but don’t have the money. You might want to consider a working holiday in Sydney to earn the money you need.  See Dan’s inspiring story and get his advice…

Sydney at dusk as seen from the Manly ferry

Sydney at dusk as seen from the Manly ferry

My life in the UK

In many ways, I’m a typical English bloke.  When I was 18, I trained as a Mechanic at West Suffolk College, and then became a Welder. Until age 22 I worked my trade during the week and on weekends I played footie and went to the pub. Like lots of guys, I was happy with that routine for quite a long time. But then something happened that made me want something different for my life.



Why I Left the UK

I was living and working as a Welder outside Cambridge when I looked around one day. I saw that I was the youngest guy there. The next guy up was in his mid-thirties.  After that, the guys were all in their forties and fifties.  I knew that if I continued doing what I was doing, that this would be my life. They were all happy with their houses, families, and steady 9-5 income, but it wasn’t what I wanted for myself. I wanted to see the world.

How my RTW Started

I worked hard and started saving £100 a week. That, plus a small inheritance, meant that I had £7000 in the bank by the time I was 22. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to travel. My parents are both pro-travelling so they were behind my decision, which made things a lot easier! When I left, there was no possible way that I could ever have foreseen how this decision was going to change my life forever!

Mates I met on my travels (I'm 3rd from the left)

Mates I met on my travels (I’m 3rd from the left)

I decided to do a Round the World (RTW) trip since I wanted to go lots of places and it was the cheapest way to do it. Since I didn’t really know much about organising all of this, I went to STA Travel, who I knew specialized in the student / backpacker market.

For £2500 they sorted me out with flights around the world. They also organized a Working Holiday Visa for Australia. It was a lot more expensive to go through them, but when you’re first starting out, you want to make sure things are done properly. You really could do it yourself if you wanted to save some money, but if it’s your first time, it’s probably best to go through someone for the peace of mind.

Mates I met on my travels

Mates I met on my travels

Like I said, I had £7000 saved when I took off in April 2010. This was three years ago; I’m now 25 and I live on a tiny tropical island in Thailand.

I sold my car, X-box, PlayStation; everything. I now only own a couple of boxes of tools and some football shoes back in the UK. Everything else I own can be packed up and I can be gone in an hour if needed. I don’t own anything that can’t fit in my backpack. The thought of owning anything right now is a responsibility I just really don’t want yet.

SE Asia to Start

My RTW trip started in SE Asia. I landed in Saigon with a mate and we spent three amazing weeks in Vietnam. As we were arriving, we met some people who were just leaving and they passed on all of their tips and advice to us. It was great! We only made it halfway up Vietnam (where I also did my PADI Open Water diving course) to Hoi An before going to Cambodia for two weeks. We never booked anything in advance; we just showed up and wandered around until we found a place to stay and it always worked out!

From there I went to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Then to Singapore, as I wanted to see a show I had built (I was doing a lot of welding for the theatre when I was in the UK and one of the sets I welded ended up there). I left Singapore and landed in Sydney. It was supposed to be just another stop on my travels but I ended up living there for a year! This was not planned; it just happened, and I’m so glad it did!

Learning all about Australia

Learning all about Australia

Accommodation in Sydney

When I landed in Sydney I found myself in the Boomerang Hostel in Woolloomooloo. It was falling apart but everyone there was awesome!  I built a new family in the three months I lived in their 14-bed dorm and I have to say that it was one of the best experiences of my life! My friend Rocky and I then moved out and into a two-room house with four others. Four of us shared a room but we didn’t mind! The place was luxury compared to the hostel!

Iconic Sydney Opera House

Iconic Sydney Opera House

Getting a Job in Sydney

I started asking around and found out about a general labouring job so I applied and got it, earning $25 an hour (convert). This was pretty decent as minimum wage for must unskilled jobs was about $17/hr (convert). I was only able to work because STA had organized the Working Holiday Visa for me. You need this to get a job in Australia. Some of my mates were working in call centres also for $25/hr (convert).

Sydney Harbour at night from Observation Hill

Sydney Harbour at night from Observation Hill

I had been expecting to find a bunch of laid back Aussies when I got to Australia bit it wasn’t like that at all. Everyone in Sydney was stressed out. And they don’t even drink pints; they drink schooners, which are smaller than pints (and expensive). I was focused on making some money for my travels so it didn’t really bother me.

After three months doing that, my welding qualification paid off and I got a skilled job as a welder, meaning my salary went up to $40/hr (convert). I ended up fixing and maintaining Navy battleships, which was pretty cool. I even got a chance to do some work in the mines and my salary jumped to $70/hr (convert) when I was doing that. If you can manage it, I would really recommend sorting yourself out with some sort of qualification before coming here as it means your earning potential is much higher.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge

I had heaps of plans still to fulfill on my RTW but they all went awry when I started earning such good pay. I wasn’t about to leave while I was earning so well, so I abandoned the rest of my RTW plans, meaning I lost a couple thousand pounds worth of flights. I was supposed to go on to New Zealand, Fiji, America and back to the UK.

But…I made up the lost money quickly. I’m a pretty decent saver, so I ended up leaving Australia with a lot more money than I had arrived with.  I just got my head down and did the work.  I’m able to work hard and they gave me all the work I needed, so it worked out really well.

Manly Beach

Manly Beach

My advice to someone wanting to go to Sydney to work is to get talking to people.  No matter what you do, somewhere along the line you have something in common. Get yourself in to a hostel when you arrive, in an 8-bed dorm, and start chatting with people. Talk to everyone you can and it won’t take long before you get the information you’ll need to lead to the right job for you.

Carrying on my RTW

On a Working Holiday Visa you can only work for six months with a single company so I had essentially gotten to the end of my visa. The company was going to try to sign me up with their sister company but it wasn’t working out. I had already saved lots of money and I didn’t have much time left that I was allowed to work anyway, so it was time to carry on my RTW trip that had just been put on hold for a year.

Sydney Harbour

Sydney Harbour (as seen from the steps of the Opera House)

A friend of mine was working for Peter Pan Travel Agency and made good money (it’s mostly commission-based work and she’s really bubbly and personable) so we were both able to do whatever we wanted when we left. She also wanted to travel so she sorted out my six weeks all the way up the East coast of Australia.

She was going up the West; I was going up the East. We then met up again in Darwin. I simply told her the things I wanted to do and she sorted it all – it was brilliant! It cost me $2000 AUD (convert) to travel from Sydney to Darwin for six weeks, including all activities (even diving).

Saying 'Bye' to Sydney

Saying ‘See you later’ to Sydney

I finally left Australia in June/July 2011, managing to get a fantastic deal on flights with Air Asia. It was an emotional time as I really felt like Australia had become my second home.

I went first to Bali. From there I went to Thailand for six weeks to do some diving with Master Divers. Then I went back home to the UK via Kuala Lumpur (the cheapest travel hub in SE Asia). That whole set of flights cost only $600 AUD (convert)! I didn’t get brilliant service and didn’t get fed on the planes, but it was super cheap and the flight back to the UK landed in Stanstead, not far from where I live.

Meeting up with Oz Mates Again

It’s funny how travel like this changes you. After 14 months away, I arrived back in the UK on a Friday night (the day before the London riots) to discover that I wasn’t quite the same person. I obviously still loved my friends and family back home, but it only took three days before I wanted to be on the road again. I had met some amazing Germans in Sydney so I went to Germany for six week to visit them for Octoberfest – and didn’t spend a penny on accommodation!

Meeting more interesting people on my travels

Meeting more interesting people on my travels

It was amazing to go around and meet the people I had met in Sydney who had become like family to me! It was then off to Holland and Belgium to meet more friends I’d met on my travels. I tried some quintessential Belgian experiences (like mussels and fries) and then it was onto the Eurostar and back to England.

Next Steps

I had no goal and no routine when I got back to England. I felt very unsettled and I needed to make a plan. We often think of ‘routine’ as a bad word, but I like a routine.  It keeps me productive. But I knew I wasn’t going to last long in England. My idea of the world had expanded and there was still so much I wanted to explore. While I decided what I wanted to do, I got my old welding job back.

I worked for six months and saved money while I figured out what I wanted to do. I had loved my time diving on the tiny island of Koh Tao in Thailand with Master Divers so I contacted them and arranged to study with them to become a Dive Master. That’s how I’ve ended up living on Koh Tao for the past 14 months! And that’s how I’ve ended up becoming an SSI Dive Instructor!

Big ambitions. Little steps. That’s how I now see it.



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