Guest Post: Why Backpackers Love the Jobs You Hate

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Why backpackers love the jobs you hate

Is there a more iconic backpacking job than that of the humble bartender?

Each year more than 115,000 young people set off on a working holiday to Australia, and spend a year or two soaking up the sunshine while earning a bit of cash at the same time. The single biggest nationality to take advantage of Australia’s working holiday visa programme are the Brits, who flock down under in their masses each and every year, while Irish and German travellers also head to Australia in big numbers. And if you are one of those lucky enough to be aged 30 or younger and fancy sampling a different way of life while you’re still fit and active then you too can jet off to the land of Oz. Yet while this opportunity may sound like a great adventure – just what is the reality of life working down under? After all, many on working holiday visas have to get by undertaking tough, manual labour or low-paid menial jobs with little recompense. So why do so many do it? Well it turns out that these are exactly the kind of jobs backpackers thrive on, and here’s why.

Most backpackers who make their way to Australia are there for the experience, for fun, and, generally, most do not want to get too committed to a stressful, demanding job. While menial labour may not seem too glamorous, it perfectly fits the lifestyle that most backpackers want to maintain – short bursts of intense work, and then more leisure time to have fun and explore the continent.

fruit picking Australia
Fruit picking season in Australia is a Godsend for many backpackers.

Jobs like picking fruit, pouring coffee, waiting, manning the shop floor, cleaning dishes in restaurants can all be picked up quickly and then, when it is time to move on, can be left behind with no hard feelings. Nor do these jobs necessarily need any kind of expertise or years of back-breaking experience – you just turn up, receive your basic training and get to work. And with such a high variety of jobs available in all four corners of Australia (five if you include Tasmania!), sticking to this kind of work and building up your experience means you can go wherever you like and pick up wages quickly. Suddenly the appeal of herding camels in the outback, washing boats in Cairns, pulling cups of espresso in Sydney, pouring pints of beer in Brisbane and mopping up the floors of shopping malls in Melbourne seems obvious. It also helps that, with so many now coming to Australia in search of temporary work, it is easy to meet new people doing seasonal work, with many in the same boat as you.

And let’s not forget, many backpackers do not see these jobs as future careers, more as seasonal or short-term work that lets them save up enough money to move on to the next place on their itinerary – whether that be Alice Springs, Ayer’s Rock, the fashionable suburbs of Melbourne, or the golden sands of Surfer’s Paradise on the coast of Queensland.

Yet a working holiday in Australia can have some surprising financial incentives, as well, particularly in the form of claiming back your taxes. Non-residents may claim back their superannuated pension contributions once they have finished their working holiday and returned home. Superannuation contributions are paid by employers on behalf of employees, and amount to 9% of a worker’s wage, therefore, anyone returning home after completing their working holiday is entitled to a further 9% of their earnings, less a deduction of 30% that is withheld by the Australian government. So if you have been working down under for a year, you can look forward to a significant tax return shortly after leaving!

What’s more, backpackers can also claim tax deductions on any expenses related to their Australian job – for instance, a fruit picker will be able to claim deductions for a pair of sturdy shoes, tough gloves or transport getting to and from the farm. And don’t forget that, as you leave Australia for the last time at the end of your working holiday, you can even claim a refund on GST, or Sales Tax, for any significant amount of goods taken out of the country. This should be claimed at Customs at your departure airport, and all receipts and invoices must be presented to ensure you receive your refund.

So it is clear that all these elements add up to make working holidays a superb option for those who want to enjoy themselves in another country whilst also earning enough money to live on. And if that weren’t enough, you even get a bonus when you leave.

About the Author

Sarah Kelly, Experienced Backpacker and feature travel writer for Sharing experiences and tips with the avid traveller, including working holiday tax refunds to the benefits of travelling on a budget.

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  1. Thanks Chris! For most backpackers working in Aus – it is a means to an end but that does not mean it not an adventure! On occasion it can also be a really great job as well. One job backpackers often pick up, which is well paid is catering work in the big cities from about October till after Christmas. Typically you do need some experience and an RSA course – but if you do there is a lot of work! (You can also find yourself working at some pretty cool functions. (Think Melbourne Cup, Stadiums (Cricket and Footy) and Corporate events) Cheers, Quinn

    • The majority of my backpacking friends do end up doing bar work for the most part. It’s certainly what I’d angle to do if I were a backpacker in Oz. Best way to meet people!

  2. Decent guest post there Chris – I loved farming and toilet cleaning jobs on my travels to an extent, but mostly only once I got my pay cheque and realised I was heading somewhere amazing next with the money I had saved! Great experiences but not a ‘forever’.

  3. I take offense at the comment “still fit and active.” Excuse me? I ran my first marathon when I was almost 40, and did ultra marathons and snowshoe racing, duathlons, and my first 102-mile bike ride in my 40s. There were plenty of times I was passed by people up into their 70s. Ahem!

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