Setting up a life in Australia

Well, here we are again, back in Australia mate. This was definitely not something we considered when we were shipping all of our stuff back to Ireland. We had expected to set up a little closer to home after our stint in South America but alas Australia called…again. It’s definitely easier the second time around but I thought I’d note a few things in case our experiences could help anybody else out there 🙂

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Bank Account

This is obviously one of the first things you’ll need here. We actually set up an account before we even left Ireland back in 2011. The process was simple. There are a few big hitters in terms of banks in Australia and we went with National Australia Bank/NAB, mainly because they offer fee-free banking. We didn’t need a Sydney address to get our cards either. Really helpful. The other main banks here are Commonwealth Bank of Australia/CommBank/CBA and Westpac.

Finding a Home

Sydney is known as the City of Villages and picking a place to live is exceptionally difficult! I came across this City Hobo site, which has an (awesome!) index of all of Sydney’s ‘burbs, and includes an ‘if this suburb was a shoe it would be…’ section. Hilarious…and bloody true! Paddington = Jimmy Choo; Newtown = Converse/Campers; Woolloomooloo (just wanted to type that to be honest) = Puma.

Honestly, finding somewhere to live was an absolute nightmare first time around. We went to loads of estate agencies and it’s seriously like they can’t get you out of their offices fast enough. It’s quite a stressful experience coming to a new country and staying in a hostel waiting to find your ‘home’; they definitely don’t make it easy for you… We actually ended up in our first apartment in Sydney by accident. We went to see an apartment and saw a sign outside the building advertising another open viewing so we went along and ended up being the only people viewing it. Obviously the agency had done just put the sign up outside and hadn’t done a thing online! Thankfully though…one week later it was ours. So we didn’t move until we left Sydney 3 years later… This time around things couldn’t have worked out better. I spotted a place on Domain (a pretty good site but it’s very easy to get sidetracked and start looking at million dollar listings) on a Tuesday, we went to the open-house on Wednesday, applied on Thursday about 1.30pm and got it about 4.30pm – unbelievable! The word delighted doesn’t even come close. We move in this Saturday – soooooo excited 🙂 RealEstate is another great website for finding accommodation. If you’re looking for a share-house then gumtree is the way to go.

Finding a Job

Before looking for a job you’ll need to apply for a Tax File Number/TFN…otherwise you’ll pay waaay higher tax than necessary. Seek is probably the most used job search engine – they also have a pretty useful app. LinkedIn is excellent if you’re looking for a professional role. Indeed and ApplyDirect are also worth checking out. Recruitment agencies definitely have Sydney employers tied up in a bow here – many roles honestly don’t even get openly advertised (I work in HR so I know this is true!) so it’s absolutely worth signing up with agencies. Generally, I find that specialised agencies are better to deal with as they know the roles and businesses they’re dealing with inside out so they’re more likely to do more for you…It’s also important to find a recruiter that you’re comfortable with – they’re working for you as well as the employer.

Some recruitment agencies I’ve had experience with in Sydney are:

General – Chandler Macleod, people2people, Hays, Robert WaltersMichael Page

Administration – OfficeTeam

Construction – Constructive Recruitment

Human Resources/Learning & Development – Tandem Partners, The Next Step

Financial Services – Robert Half

Next: You gotta get out there and do things! Time Out Sydney and What’s On Sydney are pretty good for diary dates 🙂

Essentials – Packing List for South America

South Ameria

What do you bring on a season-spanning trip to a continent when your daily outings could be in tropical rainforests, on beaches, climbing ridiculously high mountains or traversing glaciers? Here are our essentials!


  • Packing Cubes. I used 3 packing cubes (similar to these) and rolled everything into them and they slotted perfectly into the backpack. I don’t think I’d travel again without packing cubes; you can fit so much into them and you can pack and unpack them really quickly.
  • Venturesafe Pacsafe 25 litre daypack – we chose this as our day-to-day bag; it was comfortable enough to wear sightseeing every day, strong enough to withstand a 3 day adventure in the torrential rain and humidity of the Colombian jungle and is supposed to be slash-proof (thankfully, I can’t attest to this but that’s actually why we bought it).
  • Water Bottle/Flask. We went with this one from Hydro Flask, great for keeping glacial water cold and boiling water hot (tea time!)
  • Travel Hairdryer. I had to pick one up on our travels. BIG mistake not packing this first day…it warmed me up after many a cold shower!
  • Eye Mask – Papinelle in Australia have the loveliest eye masks made with Liberty of London fabrics (filled with lavender and complete with silk ties which won’t ruin your hair – since you’ll obviously be spending hours straightening your hair whilst backpacking…)
  • Ear Plugs – I’m what I would honestly call an ear-plug connoisseur (can I put that on my CV?) and definitely recommend Ohropax wax earplugs – there’s no noise getting through these babies.
  • Portable Battery Pack – we used this one by Anker, you won’t have electricity everywhere in South America and it’s really handy to be able to charge your phone or camera in your backpack whilst you’re on the go.
  • Universal Adaptor Plug. Non negotiable.
  • Neck Pillow – I brought a velour one with me on this trip (thanks Mum); last time I had one of those blow-up ones which was definitely easier to carry but way less comfy. You need some comforts on this type of trip.
  • Travel Towels – you know those microfiber ones you can pick up Penneys (or Primark or any sports store actually) – they fold up really neatly but get so manky – they’re the one thing you’ll want to get rid of the second you get home!
  • OzForex Travel Card – we used this for currency in a few countries (you can only have a certain number of currencies on it) but we found it had the best currency conversion rates around (from Australia) and all the ATMs we went to accepted it.
  • Ziploc Bags (medium and large size) – probably the most useful thing you could pop in your bag – great for preventing spillages, keeping passports dry, storing coffee beans, keeping wet clothes separate – the list is endless!
  • TSA approved travel locks – we used these as a deterrent more than anything but if you stay in hostels you’ll need them for the lockers provided.
  • A Pen – don’t overlook this one; you’ll need it at every border crossing.
  • Bose Travel Speaker; we used this with our phones and iPad to listen to music and watch movies. Surround sound in a tent baby!!
  • Tea. I brought a box of Harney & Sons Paris Tea along with us and savoured each and every single cup of tea.
  • John’s Aeropress has to be included on this list – I think he used it along with his mini coffee grinder more than he changed his socks. True story.


This isn’t the entire list but the pieces I’ve pulled out over and over again:

  • Rain Jacket – unfortunately this one’s a necessity. We needed these every single day down in Patagonia. John bought a Mac in a Sac on Amazon and mine is from Marmot (a wind-breaker is a great idea).Black Leather Trousers – I couldn’t believe how many times these came out. John doesn’t want to see me wearing them every again but I care not!
  • Jeans – I went with a deep grey pair (only 1 pair of jeans, yes!) and I wore them all the time. Do not travel without jeans, seriously.
  • Hiking Boots – these are not a luxury, particularly in wet season – there are slippery stones and mud all over South America. You’d be crazy not to pack these! Mine were by Merrell and John’s were by the North Face. If I never see mine again I’ll be happy though…yep, don’t think I’ll be getting over all that climbing any time soon…
  • Trainers – good for days you’re not doing a major hike. I brought Nike Lunar Flyknits (like these) and got a lot of wear out of them.
  • Converse – way nicer than wearing your hiking boots or trainers with your jeans, and good if you want to look a bit more dressed up than trainers allow.
  • Havaianas – absolutely essential (for the beach and manky showers alike)
  • Sun Hat.
  • Bikinis – I brought 2 but Colombia is a fantastic (albeit expensive) place to pick up really pretty swimwear.
  • Pashmina/Scarf – great for all modes of transportation (why are aeroplanes always freezing?) I had a light grey one with me but also purchased a warmer scarf in Otavalo, Ecuador and wore that a lot.
  • Yoga Pants – not for morning yoga sessions (way too disorganised) but they’re great for hiking/trekking/keeping warm/relaxing and…sleeping in a tent! I packed 2 pairs.
  • Sports Top – I just brought one but could have used two; especially useful for trekking as they dry really quickly.
  • Sunglasses – not sure it’s necessary to actually mention this but John left his in the car in Ireland so just in case…

First Aid Kit

  • Plasters/Band-Aids
  • Paracetamol
  • Malaria Tablets – we went with Malarone as they’re the only ones that don’t seem to have any after effects. However, we brought a ridiculous amount with us – I don’t know what some doctors are doing recommending malaria tablets for everywhere in South America (our doctor in Dublin did); it’s just not necessary – check out the WHO website for where you actually them.
  • Insect Bite Cream – I’d recommend a proper one instead of just a normal cream – those mozzie bites can be seriously bloody annoying…and scarring.
  • Anti-histamines – as above.
  • Nausea Tablets – boat trips and long bumpy bus journeys. Enough said.
  • Eye Drops – you can get these along the way but it’s always nice to be able to read the packaging in your own language!
  • All Purpose Balm – I used C.O. Bigelow Rose Salve but Lucas Papaw lotion or Elizabeth Arden 8 Hour Cream would be good too.
  • Little Scissors (absolutely indispensable)
  • Tweezers
  • Sun Lotion – SPF 50 – the rays are incredibly strong in this part of the world
  • Bug Spray or Lotion with Deet to keep the mozzies away (OFF! is good as is Nopikex which you can purchase in Colombia)

Key stats from our South America trip!

So, I kind of thought it might be a good idea to keep an account of some key statistics from the 6 months we spent in South America (also including Cuba here):

Countries: 9

Passport Stamps: 30. Mostly from all the criss-crossing Argentina and Chile!

Aeroplane Trips: 19

Long-haul Bus Journeys: 69

Boat Trips: 17

Hostels: 59

Mosquito Bites: 81. Buggers.

Pizzas: 45

Photographs: 13,266

Phones Broken: 2

Favourite Country: Colombia (both of us)

Least Favourite Country: Bolivia (agreement again!)

Favourite City:

Favourite Place Overall:

Least Favourite City: Agreement on La Paz, Bolivia

One item we’re glad we packed:

  • Ciara: Earplugs (technically 2 items but you know what I mean!)
  • John: AeroPress (for making his coffee!!)

Tupiza, Bolivia and the Bolivia/Argentina Border Crossing at Villazon/La Quiaca

We just stayed in Tupiza for one night to break up the trip to Salta in Argentina. The trip from Uyuni to Tupiza began at 6am (we went with a company called 11 de Julio and we had to change a few hours in to another company, 12 de Octubre. Both buses were terrible and there’s no toilet stop or toilet on the bus. Fun!) We stayed at La Torres Hotel in Tupiza which was lovely (120 BOB).

Border crossing from Villazón, Bolivia to La Quiaca, Argentina

Collectivo’s leave from the back of Tupiza’s bus terminal from 5am every morning. So we were actually told that it would take hours to get through this border but a sleep in until 6am was required! We hopped in a collectivo at 6.40am and only had to wait 10 minutes for it to fill up. At 8.10am we pulled into Villazón (our driver was certifiable mind). From here you need to walk down to the border crossing although there are no signs so you basically just need to follow everyone else. There are plenty of currency exchange offices on the Bolivian side of the border. We were told that Bolivianos get a good rate against the Argentinian Peso; we got 1.91 for the Bolivianos we had left and 13.5 Argentinian Pesos (ARS) for each USD we had acquired (January 2015). As the Argentinian economy isn’t doing too wonderfully at the moment there’s a ‘blue dollar’ market – the actual rate should be about 8 ARS for every USD. Result! We’ve been told to try not to take any money out of banks in Argentina as the charges and rates are astronomical.

After changing our money (and asking directions from 3 different people) we found the bridge or border crossing to take take us from Bolivia to Argentina. You’ll see a sign with the numbers 1-4 in front of you. Firstly, you have to queue at number 4 (Migracion). This queue (down an uncovered bridge – sunburn central) took 2 hours. There was one person working to stamp us out of Bolivia. Next, you go to queue number 3 where you eventually get stamped in to Argentina (you’ll need the forms that are being handed out. The person handing them out told us we didn’t need them and then we had to fill them out at the control point). There were 2 people working on the Argentinian side of the border so it was only another half and hour of a queue here. You then have to queue up at queue number 1 and put your bags through an x-ray machine…which is in a van. Then you’re done! We wandered straight down the road to the town of La Quica (about a 10 minute walk) and found the bus station (3 blocks uphill from the main pedestrian street). We hopped straight on a Panamericano bus to Jujuy (115 ARS, ended up taking 7 hours) for a connection to Salta (We ended up staying in Jujuy for the night and caught a bus the following morning at 11am with Flecha Bus for the 2 hour journey to Salta). You have to  pay to store your bags underneath the bus in Argentina. Anyway, 2 hours into the journey from La Quiaca we were stopped by police officers and everyone had to bring their luggage into a room (women queue with women and vice versa) and show our passports. Some people had their bags searched and 2 people were detained. This added nearly another hour to the journey. I wouldn’t recommend Panamericano to be honest – we must have stopped 30 times on that trip.


Changing our money in Bolivia


Leaving Bolivia; Entering Argentina


Only a few in front of us 🙂


How far?!


Welcome to Argentina! So pretty.

Next stop: Salta!