Relocation, relocation, relocation

It’s been an exciting week! On Saturday I picked up the keys to my new apartment and on Monday my 97-box consignment from London was delivered. After three and a half months of being a nomad, I can’t overstate how amazing it felt on Monday evening to cook dinner with my own pans and then sleep in my own bed!

The “journey” began in September, when I got quotations from three relocation companies to ship my possessions around the world. By this point I knew I had a generous relocation allowance from my employer, so I decided to ship rather than rent my flat out furnished and buy everything again. I had some handy advice from two sets of friends who had made the move before me, and approached the companies they had used (respectively Crown and PSS , who are the two market leaders) plus one other. The prices varied hugely, largely due to estimated volume: the third company, who did a video survey rather than coming in person, thought I had vastly more stuff than the other two and would therefore only price on the basis of a whole container rather than sharing one. As well as additional cost, this would have meant a faster shipping time, which I didn’t want given my holiday plans. So that was one company down. Between the other two, I picked Crown, who were more expensive but not by a lot, especially after I haggled with them to get some free storage. I liked the sound of their service, including the fact that they operate in Australia themselves rather than contracting the delivery out to another agent as PSS do.

Crown did pretty much all the packing for me, other than I did fill the suitcases, holdalls and plastic storage boxes that I wanted to bring over. So the big job in advance of them showing up was sorting my stuff into three categories: container, suitcases coming with me, and bin/give away.

I tried to be ruthless with my decision-making, knowing that every additional cubic foot would cost me around £6. So books were no problem – incremental cost of each one was pennies – but I decided against an ageing wardrobe and bookcase that I’d got second hand and never really liked, my second sofa and a chest of drawers that was starting to look tatty. Food of any sort and things may of wicker or untreated wood were not allowed and alcohol not worth it due to obnoxiously high duty prices, so parents and friends got a few gifts, and I’ve stored a few of the bottles of better booze at my parents’. Beyond that, and three boxes that my friend Claire is kindly keeping in her loft, I’ve stored nothing back in the UK: I was determined to avoid a self-storage unit, as it would just become a money sink if I stayed here long term. There were a few tedious requirements, like making sure no soil on anything, so my friend Yvann and I had “fun” disinfecting the soles of all of my shoes and various other things.

I booked the packing and removal over a day and a bit, starting the day after my work leaving drinks. Probably an error, frankly – adrenaline just about got me through the day, but when the shipping guys left about 3pm, the emotion of it all and my hangover combined to completely floor me, and I sat on the floor of my spare room and sobbed. I’m pleased to say that, to date, that’s the only time in the process that I’ve really asked myself “What have I done?!”

The packer guys were impressive – alarmingly efficient, but also used their brains – for example, checking with me whether I really wanted them to pack my window keys! That said, I’ve just unpacked a cardboard wine box, which I really didn’t need! Small items were wrapped, while large ones were wrapped up in brown paper as they were, though they did dismantle my bed and desk. Every item had a sticker for the room, had contents written on it, and was stickered with a number and logged on a list of what’s what – mostly for customs purposes, so the inspectors can decide which ones to check out. Thankfully my stuff got through customs fine, which saves time and a lot of dollars, so glad I followed the rules!

I ended up with 97 stickered boxes or packets, all of which I then ticked off as they were brought into the flat on Monday morning. The Crown guys re-assembled the bed and desk, unwrapped furniture and put it where I wanted it, and unpacked the boxes I requested. So we had a production line going on the kitchenware, with one of the guys unpacking and me putting into cupboards, but I asked them to leave books etc. in boxes as I’ll need to buy more cases for them. As a result, my kitchen, bathroom and kitchen are pretty much sorted and the living room is getting there, but the spare room is full of boxes and mess. I’ll unpack what I can this weekend, but suspect it’s next stop Ikea!

But, most importantly, the place feels like home already, and did the day I moved in. Shipping my stuff was absolutely worth it.

A place to call my own

Two weeks of silence… but with good reason – the all-consuming process of flat hunting. It’s been in equal parts frustrating, exhausting and stressful, but I think has eventually has come to a good conclusion! I haven’t looked for a rental place in seven years and knew it wouldn’t be fun, but I wasn’t really prepared for the emotional rollercoaster.

The first step was deciding where to look, because all of Sydney, or all of Sydney within a sensible commute of work, was really too large an area to be able to cover! A classic place for British people to live is Bondi, but it just didn’t appeal. It might have done had I been 5 or 10 years younger. I’m currently temporarily in Darlinghurst, just south of the CBD. It’s great for many reasons, mostly it being walking distance from work and the fantastic bar and coffee scene, but it’s also a bit noisy (especially on a Saturday night!) and rather expensive – and I decided for the same money I’d rather have more space than trendiness on the doorstep! With family and family friends north and north west of the city, and the appeal of a harbour view every morning on the way to work, I settled on the north shore, a short bus or train ride across the harbour from the office. I spent a few days and evenings pottering about a few suburbs to narrow it down, deciding I liked Crows Nest best, especially the feel of the high street which was off rather than along the main highway, with lots of cafes, restaurant, bars and local shops. One of my biggest mistakes was not settling on that once and for all; instead trying to view across a wider area across to and including Neutral Bay, a couple of miles further east.

Working out what I can afford and was willing to spend wasn’t easy either. I know what the tax bands are and had been advised by friends about relative costs of utilities and so on (and experienced first-hand what seem like astronomical supermarket food prices!), but I haven’t had a pay packet yet, or even a month of normal expenditure, so there’s definitely some guesswork going into the “what can I afford?” question. I set out with an ambition of two bedrooms, to mirror my London arrangement of having a guest room/study, and realised pretty quickly that to achieve that in Crows Nest or anywhere else decent within a half-hour commute, I had to be prepared to part with at least $600 (350 pounds) per week. Suffice to say that’s a lot more than my London mortgage payments! But that was my starting point, but I wanted to see what that much or less could get me on a one-bed.

I’m told I’ve chosen the worst time of year to house hunt, and my experience is certainly that it’s a seller’s (landlord’s) market right now. Quite the opposite of how I found it in South London before Christmas when trying to let my flat out – another painful process with an eventual successful resolution! Back home, private viewings are the norm – the prospective renter usually arranges a time with the agent and is shown around on their own, and the existing tenants have to suck up potentially many viewings. Here, unless a property is vacant, and even in some cases when it is, it’s an open home approach with a very narrow window. A 15-minute time slot, usually on a Saturday morning but sometimes during the week, is advertised, and in that short time you can expect 10 or more other people or couples to be there with you and the agent. And then you scuttle off to the next one, and unless you take detailed notes, by the end of the day all the flats blend into one.

My Saturday viewing experience, a week ago, was deeply frustrating. It didn’t help that I was still holding out a little bit of hope for an utterly perfect place I had seen three days earlier (along with about 30 other people), offered well above asking price and not heard anything since. I tried to see too many properties over too wide a geographical area, taking three cabs between Crows Nest and Neutral Bay and missing a couple of viewing windows while waiting around and in transit. Turns out, if you’re 5 minutes late for a slot then no can do. Those I did see didn’t quite hit the mark, though some were close. All those under $600/week, whether one-bed or two, were in awkward locations or simply not very nice, but I came close to offering on one of a couple with a slightly higher price tag. Both were very new and ticked all the boxes in theory; one of them only had one bedroom, but in return I would have got a huge living room and balcony. One of them also had an incredible view over Sydney. But neither felt right; after my sometimes troublesome but beautifully characterful Victorian terrace conversion in London, I found the uber-modern very open-plan square box style quite soulless. And there wasn’t nearly enough kitchen surface space, which might have driven me spare.

It was an anxious couple of days that followed, as I berated myself for being so fussy, wondered whether I should crack and apply for one of them and got a bit stressy about what I’d do when I got kicked out of current place on the 10th. But glad I held out, because (via another viewing, application and rejection on Tuesday), I secured a Wednesday morning viewing on a flat I’d just failed to spot before Saturday and, by some miracle, wasn’t taken after the weekend’s viewings. It took me all of about 30 seconds to think “yes, this is it.” Larger and cheaper than both of the two I’d ummed and ahhed about over the weekend, and than the latest place that didn’t want me, older (which I prefer, and will suit my furniture better) but with a modern kitchen and bathroom, and in a block of only four. I was desperate not to let this become rejection number three.

Statistically, I should have expected to get turned down at least a couple of times, given the number of people at almost all the viewings. And not having an Australian rental history or any form of landlord reference may have put me in the “too complicated” bracket in the eyes of a landlord faced with his or her pick of professional applicants. But the lack of feedback really cheesed me off. I work in a business where we have to bid competitively for most of our work, it takes a lot of time and effort, but at least if you’re not successful you at least get some indication of why not. Applying for a flat – no way. I tried, and was given nothing: “We had several applications and the landlord had to choose one of them. There was nothing wrong with yours.” Gah!

One good thing about the Aussie system, or the Sydney one at least, is that applications with most agents are done via the same online form which you can store your details and scanned ID copies on. Hence, a little scarred by the rejections and having seen about 15 other people at this latest viewing, I did my application on the bus back to work, and texted the agent (with whom I’d already done the full charm offensive) to say if I needed to offer more money then I’d be happy to consider it. 24 hours later, I was told it was mine at asking price, if I paid a week’s rent within another 24 hours. Phew.

So, I move in on the 17th (via a week of sofa surfing with friends and family) and my stuff shipped from the UK will arrive on the 19th. It’s all falling into place.

The hard work starts tomorrow

My word, 11 weeks have gone quickly! But tomorrow, 80 days after leaving my job in London and 55 days after leaving the UK, I finally start my new job in the EY building you can see in the photo (to the right of the squarish turquoise one). Nice location, huh?

I’m feeling a mixture of excitement, apprehension and disbelief! Moving here hasn’t really felt real throughout the whole process, and I still don’t think I’ve processed the idea of going to work in a new place, or indeed going to work at all after getting so used to being on holiday! But I’m very happy not to be living out of a suitcase any more (I’ve moved into an Airbnb flat for 4 weeks), a routine will be good, my body will be thankful for fewer calories and units of alcohol and my bank balance for a salary.

I’m sure I’ll get into the swing of things, but I’ll need to turn the brain on to learn about new market, new colleagues, new company… must keep telling myself a new challenge is a good thing!

A flying visit to my new home city

I’ve arrived! Not only that, but I think I’ve managed to adapt to the time difference in record time. Which is a very good thing, because I’m already on my travels again – I’m now in Launceston and tomorrow morning I start six days hiking the Overland Track in the remote centre of Tasmania. Despite my excitement for the Ashes, I think this is the bit of my trip I’ve been looking forward to most – a chance to detox from city life, enjoy scenery that’s stunning by all accounts, and do some proper exercise for the first time in longer than I like to think about. More detail about the trip is here if you’re interested.

The flight to Sydney from Abu Dhabi was uneventful, which I reckon is the way flights should be. 14 hours was never going to be fun, but three seats to myself and a couple of glasses of red wine definitely helped, and I managed a couple of hours’ sleep. Probably for the best that it wasn’t more – arriving in the evening, being tired definitely contributed to the almost complete lack of jetlag that I’ve had since. Sydney Airport was extraordinarily efficient, with me leaving the airport in my cousin’s car 45 minutes after touching down. 90 minutes after my scheduled arrival time, I was tucking into dinner in the far western suburbs. Winner. The weirdest feeling on the journey ticking the “permanent migration” box on the customs form. I’m an Australian resident now – ulp!

After an admin, shopping and cricket-on-TV day with my cousin yesterday, I spent this morning in central Sydney. I met a couple of partners from the company I’m joining in January for a coffee and a chat, which was really positive, especially about the applicability of my UK experience here in Aus. There’s a massive amount of government investment in infrastructure here at the moment, so there’s plenty going on – doesn’t sound like I’m going to be bored when I start work, so I’m going to make the most of the downtime I have now!

After that and before going to the airport for the second time in under 48 hours, I took a ferry ride to Neutral Bay wharf and walked up to the high street with my “would I like to live here?” hat on. The answer is definitely maybe! I’ve been to Sydney more times than I can be bothered to count, but never really looked at it through the eyes of a potential resident. It’s exciting to do so, and I look forward to exploring a few inner suburbs in the new year to help me make up my mind. I’m lucky that my relocation allowance is generous enough to include four weeks of temporary accommodation, so I already have somewhere within walking distance of the office to stay for the start, which ought to give me time to make some decisions.

I expect to be off the grid for the next week and am looking forward to the tech detox… photos to follow in a week!

And she’s off!

Well, I actually managed to leave the country this time. Greetings from Abu Dhabi international airport, which means one (mid-length) flight down, one long flight to go. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve flown to Australasia and I’ve sampled most of the airlines that offer London to Sydney via one stop, but Etihad is a new one on me. Today it seemed mostly to be carrying cricket fans bound for Brisbane and folks working at this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – lots of Pirelli luggage and Barmy Army shirts in evidence.

The only con of Etihad I’ve found so far is rigorous enforcement of a paltry cabin baggage allowance (7kg, it turns out, is a wheely bag less than half full!), which led to some frantic re-packing in the corner of Terminal 4. Since the big suitcase was already a couple of kilos over the 23kg allowance, I shoved as much as I could into the big rucksack and my handbag, ridiculously put on my raincoat for check-in and then rearranged the hand baggage into something sensible (and well over 7kg back in the wheely) as soon as I had the “approved” cabin baggage label. Phew. Still, more than I’ve achieved before 9am on any other day in the last fortnight!

Other than that, so far so good. Landed 40 minutes early, empty seat next to me a big win, Lego movie enjoyed, red wine deemed acceptable and the coffee too (just about! I long ago gave up on aeroplane tea being anything other than vile), and food went down pretty well. I reckon all serial long-haul economy class flyers have their own routines and coping mechanisms. Mine, ingrained as a teenager who found 14-hour flights interminable, is to draw every activity out to make it take as long as possible. Multi-tasking is missing an opportunity to pass more time with the same stuff. If I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll listen to music and play a game (or write a blog post) simultaneously, but I religiously won’t do anything else while eating and certainly not watch a movie. Movies are for after the meal, it’d feel wrong otherwise. Yep, I’m weird!

An hour until I board flight 2 of 2. Another Etihad bonus is the ability to bid for an empty seat next to you on less-than-crowded flights, and I thought £105 worth it for 14 hours of what should be improved comfort. After a conversation with customer services yesterday, I’m greedily holding out some hope of three seats to myself. Til then, a (vastly better than Etihad) coffee and internet catch-up are keeping me sufficiently entertained. Yep – multi-tasking is “allowed” on land….

Passport burning a hole in my pocket

Since announcing my plans to emigrate to Australia, several months ago, I’ve been asked “why?” more times than I can count. And it’s a fair question. Why would I walk away from London, one of the greatest cities in the world, a job I reckon I’m pretty good at in a company where I’m supported and immensely valued, more friends than I can count, and my beloved parents 90 minutes away?

In short, because I can. I’m fortunate enough to be a British-Australian dual national, thanks to my Sydneysider mother (who, 45 years ago, did the classic “come over for three years” thing, met my dad and changed her mind about going home – so intercontinental moves are in my blood!). That little blue passport opens the doors to Australia, and indeed New Zealand, for as little or as long as I want to stay there, no questions asked. It offers me the opportunity to live in the same continent as my cousins, who are fantastic but I’ve not had enough face time to be close to as I’d like; to experience a lifestyle which may be similar but definitely has differences; to see far more sun and sea and sand; to visit all the stunning bits of Aus and NZ I never get to on holiday because by the time I’ve visited my friends and family it’s been time to fly home; to reset expectations on my work-life balance over 10,000 miles from my previous job; and to take on the challenge of applying my skills in a new market. After returning from a year in NZ in 2007, I’ve always thought I might go over for longer one day. Recently I’ve concluded “if not now, when?”.

After looking at it from the perspective of what will I regret more in five years’ time, I decided to give it a whirl. It’s for three years minimum, unless I decide I really don’t like it, so I have to invest in a new life and new friends. Sounds alarming, three years, but what was I doing three years ago? Pretty much what I’m doing now. I had the same job (or a more junior role in the same place), the same friends, the same flat. I’ve loved absolutely all of it, but in my mid-thirties it’s time for something to change. I wouldn’t have chosen the single life, but while I’ve got it I want to enjoy it to the full – and one big advantage is being able to make decisions for me and only me. As a friend and former colleague put it, “You only get one shot at life”.

With a combination of careful planning and some slices of luck, I’ve managed to set things up quite nicely. I have landed a good job in the heart of Sydney at an international professional services company, but not to start until mid-January. For this cricket tragic, the timing of two months off and the Ashes in Australia is no coincidence – I’ve tickets to eleven days over three matches. And I will also walk the Overland Track in Tasmania, explore Kangaroo Island, spend two weeks in New Zealand over Christmas, and catch up with many friends and family members.

There’s a huge amount I’ll miss, but a lot to be excited for. Time for the little blue passport to stop burning a hole in my pocket.