Singapore airport was beautiful, clean, and efficient. I stopped at 7-11 before heading towards the gate for my flight to buy some snacks, a sandwich, and a bottle of water. Scoot Airlines doesn’t provide any complimentary drinks or snacks. At the register, the man behind the counter told me that I wouldn’t be able to take the water to my gate because I still had to go through security. I explained that I already went through security, but he said there would be another security line at my gate. I put the water back and just bought the snacks.
Sure enough, there was an x-ray machine at the gate, and my bag had to be screened. I was now in the gate area, and thankfully, I found a water fountain. I filled two empty water bottles. I knew in Thailand and Vietnam that I couldn’t drink the water, but I assumed it would be ok in Singapore. It was either that or I could buy an overpriced bottle on the airplane.
The six-hour flight was really comfortable because I had a whole row to myself! I sat at the window and propped my feet up across the seats while I wrote. Even though Scoot Airlines is a budget airline, it provided much better service than what I received from Air Asia and VietJet.
When I arrived in Australia, I was stressed out about going through customs. I don’t why I always stress. I never have anything illegal or to hide, but I still get nervous. I answered the questions, like whether or not I had been to a place where they have Malaria outbreaks. I waited in line and then approached the customs counter. The man explained that I didn’t need to wait in line because I did the digital machine. Oh well.
I thought it was strange that they didn’t ask how long I planned to be there or for my visa because all Americans need a visa to enter Australia. The standard visa costs about $20 and can be approved in a few minutes when getting it online. I’ve heard that some airlines won’t let you board unless you show that you already have a visa. The standard permission only allows Americans to stay for three months.
I didn’t want to have to decline my house-sits because my visa was expiring, so I applied for a more extended tourist visa. It cost $140, took hours to fill out, and I had to upload copies of my bank statements showing I wouldn’t run out of money. I could have applied for up to 12 months, but I requested six months, which is what was approved. The visa must have been in their system because they never asked me to show it.
It was late at night, and I booked an Airbnb near Melbourne airport. I ordered an Uber, and as we waited in construction traffic, the driver told me that he was from the Netherlands. He’s been in Australia for ten years. When he first arrived as a backpacker, his mom only asked him for one thing: don’t get a girlfriend while you’re there. He ended up meeting a girl and having a child with her. They were together for nine years, so he stayed in Australia. Now he stays because his child is there. The driver warned me, “Australians start relationships very fast.”
I asked the driver, “Are there really kangaroos around?” He explained that yes, they are a nuisance. One hit his car recently while he was doing a pickup near the airport. The driver said that they often come out at night, so you have to be careful driving. Before we arrived at my Airbnb, he told me that the minimum wage is more than $17 an hour, and warned me that food prices are very high.
I arrived at the house, which was in a residential neighborhood. The house looked like it could be from the 80s. I followed the instructions and was greeted by the daughter, who appeared to be around 20 years old. She gave me a quick tour of the kitchen, bathroom, and then showed me my room upstairs. My room had a shared living space, and another bedroom adjoined to it. There was a young couple on the couch on their laptops trying to figure out their travel plans.
My room was small, but the bed was comfortable. After sleeping on so many hard beds in Southeast Asia, I was happy to have a plush bed again. It was too late to get dinner, so I ate some snacks I grabbed at a vending machine on my way out of the airport, and then it was off to sleep.
The next morning, I searched for busses to Ballarat, where I’d start my first house and cat sit. I found one that left at 3:00 pm, and I stayed at the Airbnb until it was time to head towards the bus station at the airport.
As I tried and failed to order an Uber, the homeowner showed up. I was packed up and about to leave until we started talking. She appeared to be in her early 50s and had blonde hair. We talked about my travels, and she asked about recommendations for a Vietnam motorbike tour. All of a sudden, her husband appeared from their bedroom after sleeping late. I didn’t even know anybody was there. They were friendly, but I had to get my Uber before I missed my bus.
I arrived at the bus station two minutes before it left and jumped on. There were only about ten other passengers. It would take an hour and a half to get to Ballarat, and I enjoyed the more substantial, comfortable seats. After riding so many busses and trains with tiny places in Southeast Asia, this felt incredible.
Carolyn, the homeowner, picked me up from the bus station. We connected on TrustedHousesitters, and I was thrilled when she selected me to watch her house and three cats while she traveled with some friends for two weeks. I was new to housesitting, but I was excited about the opportunity. I wouldn’t get paid, but instead, I would stay at the house for free. It’s a win-win. Pets can stay in their comfortable, familiar surroundings, while someone cares for the home as well. I would get the mail and any packages that were delivered, and occasionally water the yard.
Carolyn was a retired middle school and high school history teacher. She was in her early 60s, had shoulder-length gray hair, and wore glasses. She took me to a grocery store so I could pick up food since I didn’t have a car. It was an organic and expensive store. The sticker shock reminded me of what my Uber driver told me; food is expensive in Australia. For example, one kilo (2.2 lbs) of sandwich meat from the deli counter costs $36! The price increase from Southeast Asia was astronomical, and I realized I would need to remember that I would not be paying those low prices any longer.
Thankfully, we also went to a bigger, cheaper grocery store. I browsed around and then met back up with Carolyn. I asked her where the coffee creamer was because I was struggling to find it. She had a look of confusion and asked, “What is that?” I replied, “You know, cream for coffee.” She said, “We call that milk.” Sure enough, there is no coffee creamer in Australia. I found a “full cream” milk and figured it would work just fine.
Carolyn and I went back to her house, and she showed me around. The beautiful home was built two years ago. Carolyn was married for 32 years but got divorced ten years prior. She has two children in their 30s and two grandkids from her daughter. We sat down and talked about our travels and history. Being a former history teacher, she was full of interesting information. Carolyn has traveled all over the world but hasn’t been to the U.S.
I told Carolyn about my divorce and how my ex-husband was a pathological liar. She opened up to me about her ex-husband, who was a charismatic man but did not treat her well. I was glad that she was out of that marriage because it took a toll on her. The stress and trauma from the relationship forced her to retire early. She often needed to rest because her eyes would bother her. Closing her eyes helped to prevent her symptoms from getting worse.
Carolyn and I talked about politics and the differences in our cultures. She said Australians couldn’t believe that we voted for President Trump. I explained that I grew up in the midwest and spent 15 years of my adult life in LA. I have both democrat and republican friends. I see both sides, but I tend to lean more conservative. I explained the disconnect that is going on in the U.S. and the massive bubbles that most people live in, preventing people from understanding each other. Overall, we had a good discussion.
Carolyn went to bed early, and I watched some TV. Then Keiren, her roommate, came home. She is in her late 20s and is a teacher. She rents a room from Carolyn and would be leaving in a couple of days for spring break. We said our hellos, but she was exhausted from a school event that required her to stay late, so she went to bed too.
I had a guest room with a twin bed that also had a crib for when Carolyn’s grandson stayed the night. I was delighted to be able to spend the next two weeks resting and writing. While I was in Southeast Asia, I didn’t get a lot of writing done (yes, I’m perpetually behind in my blog) because it was “go-go-go.” I wanted to make sure that I saw and did as much as I could because I only had a month in Thailand and a month in Vietnam. I was desperate for a break from sightseeing and to just spend some time vegging out. The house was the perfect place to get some rest.
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Post Edited By: Mandy Strider