View of the harbor and surroundings from high atop the Sydney Tower.

The view from Sydney Tower. Photo © Sarah Ackerman, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

A lot of would-be expatriates moving to Australia never get to explore this vast country before they move here. If you get the chance to have a look around and maybe even decide where it is you would like to settle, seize that opportunity and let Australia draw you into its charm, adventure, and beauty. A fact-finding trip, besides providing new impressions, will also make your subsequent move a lot easier and smoother.

Virtually all trips to Australia start in Sydney, and getting to know the city is a lot of fun and is an excellent introduction to the country—no matter where you end up. This itinerary will help you plan a weeklong trip.

Days 1-2

On the day of travel, as soon as you are on the plane, set your watch to Sydney time and try and eat and nap accordingly. It may only be a few hours on the plane, but every little bit helps to ensure you arrive without wasting too much time coping with jet lag. However tempting it is to celebrate, try to minimize alcohol intake, unless you think a stiff whiskey might help you go to sleep when your body is not quite ready. Hydrate with plenty of water, and walk up and down the aisles a few times during the flight to keep the impact on your body to a minimum. Fill out your landing cards early in the flight and have them ready with your passport and hotel accommodations printout so that you will have less hassle on arrival.

Even early in the morning you will see plenty of surfers, as many people try and fit in an hour in the waves before heading off to work. Not a bad way to start the day, is it?

When traveling to Australia from North America, you cross the international date line, so if you leave the United States on Monday night, you will arrive on a Wednesday morning; it’s not a typo that you completely skip Tuesday. Generally speaking, a passenger leaving New York should expect to be on an afternoon flight to Los Angeles and arrive in Sydney the morning after the next day. But don’t worry; you’ll get your lost day back when you return.

Day 3

Ideally, you want to arrive around early afternoon, so you can manage to stay awake for a few hours before succumbing to sleep. But even if you arrive in the morning, try and stay up all day. This will be tough, but it will help you enormously with jet lag. Westbound jet lag is reportedly not as bad as eastbound, but it depends on the individual, age, fitness level, and how used to travel your body is. Taking it easy and getting your bearings is the goal of today. Upon arrival, make your way to your hotel, which can be in the CBD, giving you the choice and location to go anywhere easily, or, if you have already narrowed down your choice of suburbs, try to find a small boutique hotel there.

Take a stroll around the neighborhood, find a little café, and soak up the atmosphere. Listen to the people around you, people-watch, and get a feel for what age groups and types of people live here. If you feel up to it, stop in at a newsagent to get a weekly pass for the local transportation system, hop on a bus into the CBD, and head straight to the top of the Sydney Tower. This might seem like a very touristy thing to do, but hey, you are a visitor and allowed the odd indulgence, and it will give you an idea of the layout of the city to help you get your bearings. Bring along this book with potential suburbs highlighted on the map in the Prime Living Locations section and see where they are in relation to the city center, the harbor, and the surroundings.

If you haven’t already, confirm appointments with your potential or definite employer, real estate agents, and schools for the coming days, and then settle for an early dinner near the harbor, take in the views, and then head to the hotel for an early night with a copy of the local Sydney Morning Herald—not only to look at real estate listings but also to read local stories and soak up the different ways our language is used.

Day 4

This is a day of action: Ideally you will have set up some appointments with local real estate agents to show you around potential properties and will be meeting with the headmasters of a couple of schools in the corresponding areas. Stop into a local supermarket such as Coles or Woolworths, just to have a look at the products and prices; stop at some furniture and electrical stores to see if shipping all your old stuff is actually worth it; and get some local magazines, such as Time Out, at the newsagent to see what’s happening in the city and surroundings.

Have lunch and plan coffee stops in the suburbs, maybe near the schools you are visiting, and get a feel for the people and the surroundings; try to imagine yourself living here. Does this suburb suit you? Could you imagine yourself here?

Day 5

Depending on how much you achieved yesterday, you will either need to spend another day in the suburbs or venture a little farther and have a look at the beaches and leisure facilities in Sydney. Hop on the bus to Bondi, have some fish-and-chips by the beach, and watch the surfers and life guards doing their thing. Even early in the morning you will see plenty of surfers, as many people try and fit in an hour in the waves before heading off to work. Not a bad way to start the day, is it?

Take a “commute” to Manly from Circular Quay and see if a daily ferry ride might suit you. Don’t just saunter along the promenade but go into the side streets, look at the mix of houses and apartments, and imagine living here. It is easy to get swept away with the vacation feeling of Sydney and its surroundings. The sunshine, the beaches, and the many tourists give a slightly skewed view of what it is like to actually live here, with a daily school run, work, shopping, cleaning, and running errands, but try and detach and look beyond your first impression.

Day 6

Today you will venture outside Sydney. You’ve had a look at the CBD, the suburbs,
and the beaches, and now it is time to have a look at the bush surrounding this big city.

It’s up to you to decide if you want to rent a car or take the train, but ideally you’ll head westward into the Blue Mountains by driving across the western suburbs of Sydney and reach Katoomba, where you might visit the Three Sisters monuments and see a typical mountain town. In the late afternoon, retrace your steps to Sydney. Throughout the expedition, keep the car filled with petrol (gasoline), as there can be long distances between stations in bush areas. Take lots of water and sun protection, look for the typical Australian bush vegetation, smell the eucalyptus trees’ fresh aroma, see if you can spot a kangaroo or a koala, and enjoy the day away from the big city.

Day 7

Your journey is done, and you’ve seen the beach, the city, the bush, and the harbor. Well done! It’s back to Sydney’s international airport for the flight home. Keep in mind that heading west to east, you pick up a day crossing the international date line, so typically you will arrive in the States “before” you left Australia, according to the calendar. Flights often leave Sydney in the late afternoon or early evening, so you will fly through a shortened night and land in the afternoon of the day you left. Eastbound jet lag is usually deemed worse than westbound, so make sure you are prepared for “light duty” for a few days on your return, as you will feel a little disoriented at night when it’s time to sleep.

Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Living Abroad in Australia.