Mildly Homeless in Melbourne

A few weeks ago, I was at my job in Sydney and I just got an overwhelming urge to quit and do something new.  Find a new neighbourhood in Sydney, go to Thailand for a month, move to Melbourne - I wasn't sure, I just felt very strongly it was time for a change.  After a few days of vacillating and probably quite annoying my workmates, I took the plunge, handed in my notice, booked a two-week trip to Bangkok, and promised my friends in Melbourne I'd be moving there in time for Halloween.  Which would be just three days after I returned from Thailand...

So, I arrived back in Sydney having barely slept in 2 days, on the morning of Oct 29th.  I'd failed to find someone driving down to Melbourne, so I had to book a flight for the next day - meaning almost half of my beloved clothes got left behind in the house I'd been sharing, and I still had 22kg to lug about with me.  I'd planned literally nothing and once again, barely slept.  Yet on October 30th I found myself at 10am sitting in a Melbourne CBD laneway drinking coffee with friends.  One was comfortably settled with a good job, and a house she shared with her boyfriend and friends - but the other, Lucy, was in the same position as me, and she dropped a bit of a bombshell.  All the hostels were booked up, and those that weren't were charging $40+ per night because of the long weekend.  I'd picked basically the worst week to arrive.

So now on top of house-hunting and job-seeking, we were having to find a different place to stay every night.  Thankfully we were able to leave our heavy bags at our friend's house, but otherwise it was one relentless week.  We would wake up every morning with at least three appointments in different parts of the city, and either have to find a cheap, available hostel for the night or try to couchsurf.  Our initial attempts at couchsurfing got us no love, as a lot of hosts on the website are unnecessarily uptight about taking in stranded backpackers.  This is also when the inefficiency of the trams started to grate on me, as when we found a host we had to face a 40 minute journey to get to our stuff in Caulfield, then again back to the city, plus another 30-40 minutes to reach our couch host in Kensington.  And then we were sleeping on a mattress in the garage.

We eventually lucked out when a girl I'd met briefly while travelling in California last year noticed our plight on Facebook and offered to put us up in suburban luxury in her family home for a few nights.  This was perfection, comfortable with kind people, and thankfully Lucy had a room we could move into after that.  I'd managed to get myself a hospitality job without even doing a trial shift, but I was still woefully lacking a room.  I'd been primarily looking in the cool northern suburbs (read: incredibly hipster), and of course if the rent is low in an otherwise pricey neighbourhood, there's a reason.  I became accustomed to walking down lovely well-kept streets and knowing that the house I'd be viewing would be the most decrepit one there.

A sample of some of the houses I looked at: a terraced Victorian home in Fitzroy where my housemate was a white guy with dreadlocks whose body odour lingered after he'd left the room; a bizarre building with 3 apartments run as one house with twenty tenants, bikes and old plants hanging off the walls, filthy kitchens, and random middle-aged Italians sleeping in the living room; another enormous sharehouse with a hostel-style kitchen but with all the warmth and fun of hostel living surgically removed; and a house with a dog, but it turned out the dog would be leaving when the room became available.  Alright that one wasn't so weird but I was still pretty disappointed.

Lucy and I are not the most thrifty characters, so our approach to budgeting in these lean times involved eating just one meal a day, but it could be a decadent $15 splurge somewhere.  We were also getting coffee every morning, and wandering around the shops more than we could bear the temptation.  We attempted so save some dollar by hopping the tram...only to get caught and fined $75 apiece.  My knowledge of the trams and city centre was massively accelerated by our strange living style those weeks, and I even got to know some nice little cafes (although I don't know who we thought we were getting deluxe nachos and endless coffees when other people would have been on a home-cooked noodle diet).

I eventually found a room, which I'll be moving to at the end of the week, but here's what I learnt from my week of being an itinerant:

  • karma is real, and if you try to not pay for trams you're going to get nicked
  • you want to go out at night in Brunswick, Fitzroy, Coburg etc. but you don't want to live there.  Unless you're fine with living in squalor
  • don't listen to New York hipsters who've been living in Melbourne for a year and therefore think they know everything.  Before Christmas is the best time to find retail or hospitality work
  • don't go to house-viewings you found on Gumtree that have no pictures
  • one meal a day is not enough, especially if you're schlepping across the city from 10am-10pm
  • don't lose faith, because now I've been here two weeks and everything's coming together
Despite our weird experiences (which also included killing time in a children's library and playing Lego Star Wars on their PS3), I've liked Melbourne since I got here.  And now I can actually get stuck in.

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