We were having family lunch when my sister announced that she would take her final exam in Australia to become an airline pilot.

My sister who had worked as a flight attendant for several years, one day, decided to quit her job, and pursue her dream of becoming a pilot. It wasn’t easy for her and the whole family as studying to become a pilot is very costly. She sold her small business and the family took multiple loans so she could chase her dream.

She told me that her company would sponsor her accommodation and that I could stay with her, if I decided to come.

I immediately arranged the necessary documents needed to apply for a visa. And even though I was financially unprepared at that time because I had just booked two other trips for the coming months, I still wanted to be there for her.

Visa approval

I was surprised to learn that I could apply online for Australia visa. I uploaded all the scanned copies of the documents I could provide such as; passport and all its pages, birth certificate, certificate of employment & compensation, bank statement, credit card statements, approved vacation leave form, flight itinerary, and a visa-sized picture.

I even included a copy of my best friend’s wedding invitation wherein my name was listed as a secondary sponsor. The wedding would happen a day after my return to Manila.

It was my first time applying for a visa and I wanted to upload/submit every document that could convince the immigration officer who would review my profile that I intend to return to Manila.

A month of waiting had passed and I was getting anxious already. I haven’t received a visa grant yet. I already booked my flight and paid the visa fees, and I got worried whether what I paid for would all result to nothing.

I was starting to feel down, as my scheduled flight was only three days away. Then I got a surprising email. I was granted a visa!

Tip: I found some accommodations in Airbnb that can go for as low as PHP 1300.00 per day in Sydney. You can have a discount by registering using a link from an existing Airbnb registered user.

Pre-departure Expenses

Airfare – PHP 16300.00

Visa – 4700

Terminal Fee – 750.00

Travel Tax – 1620.00

Total: PHP 23370.00

 

Sydney Airport

Upon exiting the immigration area at Sydney Airport, I immediately looked for a convenience store to buy a sim card with data on it and an opal card (their version of our beep card) that I would use for public buses and trains in Sydney.

I used the website Transport Info NSW as my trip planner. This is very useful because you can input the place where you are and the place you want to go, and the website will provide you options on how to go there, the approximate fare, and travel time.

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 1.23.20 PM
Input the place where you are, and where you want to go
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The website will provide you options on how to go there

 

I noticed a bunch of foreigners were asking the lady at the counter for directions and she was gladly answering their questions. I approached the lady in the counter and asked her whether I needed to tap in and out every time I transfer buses and trains, because the trip planner showed that I would take the first bus with a charge of 3.50 AUD then transfer to another bus free of charge.

She told me in an irritated tone to go ask the people in the bus and not her. I was a bit shocked with her response as I just saw her pleasantly accommodating other people’s questions to her. As I pushed my the cart with my bags away from her, I said in a calm manner “You’re not a very nice lady!”

As I exited the airport, I immediately located the bus and just decided to just tap in and out every time I would transfer buses. I later found out from a friend that it was the correct thing to do.

 Tip: You can buy a sim card with free Internet at the convenience store inside the airport, it usually costs 2 AUD per day.

 

Meeting my sister

My sister was already in Sydney two weeks before my flight. She had been taking her flight simulator sessions since she arrived. Upon arrival at the hotel, we decided to have a quick lunch as she had to prepare for another exam that day.

I asked her about the simulator sessions she took for the past two weeks and she replied “so far, so good” and that her final simulator exam with Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) would be two days from that day. She told me she was starting to get nervous and asked me to pray for her exam.

We had quick lunch in the nearest shawarma place. I wasn’t able to finish my lunch because my sister was in a hurry to leave that day for. So, I just asked the waiter for a paper bag where I could put my half-eaten shawarma, and decided to stay in the hotel for a few hours to sleep and to take a shower.

Sydney Opera House (Night time)

Photo C
Multilevel train selfie

It was already getting dark when I decided to explore the city. I planned to go directly to Sydney Opera House that night, but I got lost! I used to panic on moments like this, getting lost in a city alone, but on that instance I found myself relaxed, and just tried to go with the flow. I just walked around the city, took pictures, and enjoyed the view.

Photo D
Sydney Post Office

I asked few locals for directions to the Opera house and learned that they were really nice and accommodating.

As I was walking in that cold, rainy, winter night, I couldn’t help but get excited to see the Opera House. As I got nearer, the beauty of it started to mesmerize me. The structure, the lighting, the view – just stunning! I couldn’t believe I’m standing in front of it.

Photo E
Sydney Opera House

After a few minutes of being stunned with beauty of the Opera house, I decided to go around it and took some more pictures.

There was a play to be performed that night and people were already lining up to watch it. I also lined up to get inside the lobby of the opera house but not to watch a play. I don’t even have a ticket, and I can’t afford to buy one. But I really needed to go to a comfort room so I went in.

Photo F
Couple hugging inside the lobby of Opera House

I roamed around, and took pictures while I was inside. I tried to take a peek inside of the venue, but the lady guard won’t allow me, as I don’t have a ticket for the show.

 

Dinner with a view

I found a bench facing the impressive Sydney Harbour Bridge just outside the Opera house. I decided to sit on it, and consume my partially eaten shawarma there.

I also brought bottled water with me so I could save money instead of buying food and drinks in a place herded by tourists.

Photo G
Sydney Harbour Bridge

Several meters from where I was sitting were a middle-aged couple standing. They were eating their dinner while enjoying the sight of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

I noticed they were smiling at me, so I smiled back. The guy raised his left hand holding his food, and then raised his right hand holding bottled water gesturing for cheers.

I immediately took my bottled water from my backpack and raised it to them. They busted out laughing when they saw me raising my 1.5-liter bottled water to them. The lady then shouted, “Cheers!”

 

The Cafe

After I had my dinner, I walked around the area. There were a lot of restaurants along the circular quay. I spotted a Guylian Chocolate café, and I immediately looked inside from the window.

The cupcakes look heavenly, and their hot chocolate looks inviting! I really wanted to go inside because of the freezing cold weather.

I looked at the menu posted just outside the door, when one of the lady staff invited me to come inside. Upon checking the prices, I politely declined then walked away.

I knew that my budget would not suffice during the length of my stay if I decided to buy something in the café. But I told myself that if I skip a meal or two for the next few days then, I could definitely eat there before I leave Sydney.

Day 1

Sim Card with Internet for 5 days – PHP 340.00

Food (Bread & Fruits) – PHP 839.80

Bus and Train – PHP 461.72

Bottled Water (4pcs x 1.5L) – PHP 136

Total: PHP 1777.52

 

Bondi Beach and the 9 km. walk

Photo H
Bondi Beach

When I told my friend and former colleague that I would be visiting Sydney, she offered to tour me around Bondi Beach. I was so happy that I went with her on that place.

Photo I
Bondi Graffiti Wall. Walking tour starts here.

 

We posed and had our pictures taken in the hip graffiti walls in Bondi beach. We walked along the Bondi shores as we played with rushing waters from the beach.

We hiked the steep stairs to reach Marks Park and strolled along Waverley cemetery while talking about our dreams of traveling to different places. I couldn’t believe how beautiful and clean these places are.

Photo J
Takings snaps at Marks Park
Photo K
Amazing view of Burrows Park

After resting for a while, we went to Burrows parks and exchanged some personal stories. We then proceeded to rocky coastal of Clovelly to watch the sunset. We walked for about 9 kilometers back and forth.

Photo L
Before the sunset

My friend invited me to have dinner with her and her boyfriend but I was hesitant to join them. She mentioned a great steakhouse & wine place near the area and I got tense for bit. I was too embarrassed to tell her that I am on a really tight budget. I even secretly opened my wallet to double check if I had my credit card with me.

As we were walking near the place that she mentioned, it turned out that it was already closed so we decided to just go to the nearest burger place. Perhaps they sensed that I was on a shoestring budget so they offered to pay the tab. (Thank you, Olyn and Rio!)

Tip: On Sundays, 2.50 AUD is the maximum fare you’ll have to pay, so make sure to visit farther places which costs more than 2.50 on that day.

 Day 2

Food (Ate the bread & fruits bought on Day 1) – PHP 0.00

Bus and Train – PHP 85.00

Total: PHP 85.00

College classmate

I found out through Facebook that my college classmate, now based in Malaysia, would be in Sydney the same time I would visit, so we decided to set a day for us to tour together.

We originally planned on going to Blue Mountains that day, but my legs were extremely sore from walking the day before. So instead of doing hikes on the mountain, we decided to just explore the city.

It was my first time seeing her since we graduated in college, so I was really excited that we get to bond while traveling.

Photo M
Enchanting isn’t it?
Photo N
Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

We went window-shopping at Queen Victoria Building, and then visited Royal Botanic Garden Sydney. I was finding it difficult to walk already because of my sore leg, so we decided to rest for a while and to just appreciate the serenity of the garden while catching up on our stories.

After resting, we decided to walk towards Sydney Opera House so I could have a picture of it during daytime. The Opera house is still beautiful at daytime, but for some reason I like it better during nighttime.

I was really anxious that day because that day was my sister’s final simulator check with their airline instructor and a representative from Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP). But with the help of my college friend, (Thanks Angelica!) I was still able to enjoy that day.

 

Sister’s final check

As I waited for the bus to arrive in the station, I started praying for my sister’s exam. I anxiously waited in the hotel room for her call regarding the result of her final check.

And at around 1am, I got a call from her that she passed her final check. I immediately called my parents in Manila to inform them of the news and that they now have an airline pilot daughter. Everyone was just celebrating that night!

Day 3:

Bus and Train – PHP 342.72

Food – PHP 476.00

Bottled Water (4pcs. X 1.5L) – PHP 136

Total: PHP 954.72

 

Last day in Sydney

This was my sister’s only free day before we leave Sydney so we decided to go to Pitt Street where several shops could be found. We were on a rush to buy pasalubong, as she had to meet her colleagues in the afternoon.

I arranged for my college friend and I to visit Manly Beach that afternoon. We decided to take the ferry and it was a good idea as we had captured Sydney Opera House on a different angle.

Photo O
Playing with sands at Manly Beach

We sat on the white sand beach as we looked back on our college years. We were having so much fun reminiscing that time flew fast. We had quick dinner at a fast food chain near the beach before we went back to Sydney CBD.

 

Back at the Cafe

I didn’t notice that I had saved a lot during my stay so I spent the rest of my money on pasalubong, and I was able to get my friend a fancy gift for his wedding.

My sister wanted to see the Opera house for the last time, as this was also our last night in Sydney. After taking pictures, we walked around circular quay and saw the Guylian Chocolate café again. I badly wanted to try their muffin and hot choco but I realized I had already spent all my money.

She then smiled at me and said “Don’t worry, it’s on me”.

Photo P
Finaly gfot to taste Guylian’s Hot Chocolate! It’s really good!

Day 4:

Bus and Train – PHP 902.36

Pasalubong – PHP 3400.00

Food – PHP 510.00

Total: PHP 4812.36

Back to Manila

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0363.
Mys sister. First Officer Aguinaldo. Taken outside Queen Victoria Building.

On my long flight back to Manila, I was looking at the pictures on my phone and realized a few things. This travel was not like any other adventures that I had. I was unprepared, with barely five weeks to prepare, financially worried, but I still went on.

I realized that traveling doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive, even on a country like Australia, if you know how to enjoy simple things in life that we usually take for granted. Reuniting with old friends. Getting lost in a city. Enjoying a leftover shawarma in front of a magnificent view.

This trip was not just about me; it was mostly about witnessing my sister’s dream come to fruition after years of tears and hard work.

Day 5:

Taxi to Sydney Airport – PHP 646.00

Total: PHP 646.00

Grand Total: PHP 31,645.60

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8 thoughts on “My Australian Winter Story

  1. Nice blog! You inspired me to visit Sydney . Question, what online agency did u apply for visa? Thank you! If I am planning to surprise someone do you think they will approve my visa or do i really need an invitation letter? Thanks!

    Like

  2. Nice blog. You should’ve stayed longer since you have an accommodation and the cost of the visa and airfare is pretty expensive.

    Glad to learn that the Australian Visa can now be applied online. When I applied last 2012, I had to send my passport to the embassy and pay via Manager’s Check. The online application makes me want to try scouting for cheap Cebu Pacific flight haha.

    Anyway, if ever you go back to Australia you should visit Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Gold Coast.

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    1. Thanks, David! I had two trips the coming months so I had to really stay on a tight budget. I went to China and North Korea 3 mos after Aus, then another trip (SoKor, Japan, and Taiwan) the month after. Aus was an unplanned trip. And even if I wanted to stay longer, my boss won’t allow me to – full time job.
      Yes, will definitely be back to Aus again to visit the places you mentioned, plus Perth.

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      1. Never been to Perth but I think it’s nice.

        Do you have a blog re: North Korea budget and expenses? I’ve been wanting to go to NoKor as well.

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      2. Yes. Will post that as well in the next few weeks. I’m currently in the process of redesigning the blog and writing several articles, which includes NoKor budget for the new site.

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  3. Heloo! If I have unused australian visitor visa and going to use it to enter Taiwan, can I still use it to visit Australia? Thank you so much!

    Like

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