Sydney and Melbourne – My Top 10

I have just returned from a six-week combination work and play trip to both Sydney and Melbourne, Australia. It’s not easy to summarize such an all-encompassing experience, but these are the top 10 experiences from my adventure.

10. Cultural Diversity

Australia’s population of about 23 million represents one of the most culturally diverse populations in the world. According to the 2011 census, Australians come from over 200 birthplaces. I was frequently overhearing conversations where I was trying to guess what language was being spoken.

While the founding fathers introduced the traditional British fare of fish and chips and meat pies to Australia, the cultural diversity spawned a plethora of ethnic restaurants. Literally every block in both Sydney and Melbourne contains at least one restaurant selling ethnic foods such as Indian, Mediterranean, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Turkish, Mandarin, Italian and more. And, it’s all great food. My bathroom scale will confirm this.;-)

In addition to the many ethnic foods, I also noticed the cultural diversity in the salsa scene. Unlike the US, where our proximity to Mexico, Central and South America attracts many from Latin cultures, In Australia there are a lot more residents from Asia, India, Italy and Greece. To be frank, they don’t have the natural Latino rhythm that comes from having grown up in the culture. As a result, I didn’t find the male dance partners to be as good as what I find in Minneapolis, which was quite surprising.

My only disappointment in this cultural diversity was the over abundance of American music and brands. Not only are American movies and music pervasive, but American fast food chains and retail outlets could be found on almost every street, most notably 7-11, Subway, McDonald’s and Starbucks. This is a manifestation of the Australia–United States Free Trade Agreement that went into effect in Jan 2005. While it may be great for the Australian economy, as a tourist I found this rather disappointing.

9. The Weather

The latitude of Australia makes it very much a mirror image of the US, with December 21 being both the longest day of the year and the official start of summer. With Sydney’s San Francisco like weather and ocean breezes, it’s impossible not to love the weather. That said, Sydney was having an unusually warm and humid summer during my Dec. visit, which ultimately drove me South to Melbourne – yes in the Southern Hemisphere you go South for cooler weather.

Melbourne is famously known as the city where you can experience “four seasons in one day.” During my Great Ocean Road Tour I had the chance to experience three of them (no winter on this trip), and on the morning I departed from Brisbane (North of Sydney), it was 85 degrees, with 95% humidity and pouring rain. The transfer between the domestic and International airports is out of doors, so I was commuting in a tropical rainforest. This validated my decision to have gone further South for greater comfort. I can’t image how hot it must be in the Northern part of Australia.

8. Sydney’s Ferries

The city of Sydney has developed around its beautiful and expansive harbor. Many residents use the 37-wharf ferry system to commute to work each day. The system is run very efficiently, with real-time phone apps that make it easy to get anywhere on the harbor. I found it a very pleasant mode of transportation for site seeing.Sydney ferry system map

7. The Landscape

Australia’s landscape is breathtaking. From the beaches and harbors in Sydney to Melbourne’s Ocean Beach Road, including the Twelve Apostles, Loch Arch Gorge and Shipwreck coast, each landscape is a work of nature’s art. I am fascinated by the number of photos I took of trees, which is not something I normally do. But I couldn’t get over the beauty of both the size and uniqueness of the many species of trees that are indigenous to the area.


6. Melbourne’s Art and Culture Scene

Melbourne is known as Australia’s counter culture capital. Its thriving street art scene is a testament to the city’s unique spirit and creativity. There are street performers everywhere, some good and some not so good. It doesn’t matter … they all garner an audience.


Melbourne’s street art is legendary. It consists of stencils, paste-ups and murals on many streets dedicated to such activities. The subject matters are a combination of art and activism, with everything from social commentary to murals and decorative paintings.

5. Flying first class on Virgin Australia

I cashed in 160,000 Delta miles to purchase my $9,500 first class ticket. The itinerary was MSP-LAX-SYD-MEL-BNE-LAX-MSP, with the domestic flights on Delta and International flights on Virgin America. The experience far exceeded my expectations. Everything International was truly first class: the food, service, seats that recline into beds with a foam topper, the open bar, cabin décor with star-like lights in the ceiling at night, and even the entertainment system with full headphones. I am now officially spoiled!

I’ve never experienced the sheer luxury of sleeping horizontal on an airplane. The only other experience I can relate it to is sleeping on a large cruise ship, which is something I not only embrace, but feel holds a solution that would radically reduce the sleep problem in our culture … but I digress.

Virgin Australia flat bed

The departure from LAX was at 9:50pm, which lent itself nicely to dinner being served shortly after takeoff, a glass of wine, and then seeing how far I could get through one of their 40+ movie offerings before falling asleep.

I will never forget the disbelief when I was awakened by the sound of breakfast being served and learned we were two hours from landing in Sydney. The 15-hour flight felt like one of the quickest trips I have ever taken.

4. Sailing on Sydney Harbor

Teri Ross sailing Sydney HarbourThis was one of my prime motivations behind taking the trip. As an avid sailor and experienced racer, I was intrigued by what Sydney has to offer with its multiple yacht clubs and bigger sailing vessels than we see in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes. What I didn’t know when I booked the trip was that the sailboat racing programs in Sydney literally shut down from Dec 15 to Jan 15 due to both the Sydney Hobart race as well as the holidays. As a result, I didn’t get to do as much sailing as I would have liked, but what I did do was definitely memorable. This is me at the helm, with the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House in the background.

3. New Year’s Eve on Sydney Harbor

This has been on my bucket list since I was a little girl and first saw it on TV. While it didn’t disappoint, there were some surprises.

The water wasn’t as crowded as I would have expected. My Aussie hosts felt it was relatively crowded, but comparing it to being on Lake Minnetonka in Minneapolis for the 4th of July, I didn’t feel it was all that crowded. Granted, the harbor (or “harbor” as it is spelled in Australia) is a much larger body of water, but given that there were boats anchoring for position on Dec 27, I expected navigable water to be hard to find.

The fireworks themselves were also a surprise. While they were certainly spectacular, I felt they were on par with our 4th of July display on Lake Minnetonka. Sydney’s spectacle is aided by the locale’s architecture, which provides for a display from many different levels across a spectacular skyline.

In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the geography provides for a 360-degree display of a dozen or more fireworks shows from many municipalities. So, while I did love the show on Sydney Harbor, I now also appreciate and respect what we have in Minneapolis. I’m thinking maybe the City of Minneapolis Visitor’s Bureau might want to play up our event a little more. There were countless New Year’s Eve dinners and cruises being offered in Sydney that cost $500 or more per person, so the event is clearly a draw for tourists … myself included.

Sydney Harbour Fireworks

2. Power boating alongside the lead boats at the start of the Sydney Hobart race

For those not familiar, the Sydney Hobart, it is an annual sailing race starting in Sydney, New South Wales on Boxing Day (Dec. 26) and finishing in Hobart, Tasmania. The 630 nautical mile race, which was celebrating its 70th year, has grown to become one of the top three offshore yacht races in the world. It attracts maxi yachts, participants and spectators from all around the globe.

Contrary to the forecast for rain, the weather was perfect. I was fortunate to be a guest on a powerboat with seven Australians. We positioned ourselves so that we were able to move alongside the lead boats, while navigating our 27 ft. boat through the rough waters that became increasingly tumultuous as we entered the ocean … along with thousands of other powerboats doing the same thing. These waters were far more congested than they were on New Year’s Eve!!

Realizing I needed to use my hands to stay on board, picture taking proved to be a challenge, which was disappointing. While I did have a GoPro camera strapped to my chest, it’s not the right equipment for the long distance shots I was taking. I found this video on YouTube. We were behind this boat as Comanche was taking the lead out of the heads. It was a memorable experience!!


1. Working and living from a suitcase

As a marketing technologist who makes a living on a laptop and serves many of my clients remotely, I have the luxury of working from anywhere there is good Internet access. My computer, Wi-Fi, Skype and GoToMeeting allow me to work with my clients anytime and anywhere.

This six-week trip is the longest trip I have ever taken. I originally planned on going for 3-4 weeks, but I was flying on an award ticket and had to work around available flights. With a month’s worth of hotel reward points and a 10-day house sitting opportunity, I decided to take the plunge.

While I have allowed myself to be attracted to the possessions and trappings of a nice lifestyle, including a home that is 2,100 sq. ft. more than I need, I have always enjoyed living out of a suitcase. There is something very freeing about having everything you need to survive in a rolling suitcase and having the ability to be spontaneous as events warrant. As an adrenalin junkie who thrives on intellectual curiosity, new experiences and meeting new people, the nomad lifestyle suits me well.

So there you have it, my Top 10 experiences. As I look forward to doing more of this, I have a few takeaways that others might find useful.

  1. If you are planning on house sitting, line up the house before you book your airline tickets.
  2. Pack light. Take half the clothes you think you will need. Laundromats and hotel laundry can make a small wardrobe go a long way. Bring things you can layer for the varying temperatures and be sure you have a coat and umbrella for inclement weather.
  3. Subscribe to a VPN – A Virtual Private Network will allow you to connect to both services that don’t allow access overseas (i.e. Netflix) as well as to access sites that might be prohibited from within certain countries (i.e. Facebook). It also provides a layer of security when you are accessing public Wi-Fi networks where your data could be compromised. VPN services are sold on a monthly basis, so you can subscribe for the length of time you need. Do your research before you leave, and find a provider that services your travel destinations. For Australia I used VyperVPN and had no issues with it.
  4. Leverage technology. This entire trip was planned and orchestrated with the use of technology, including but not limited to Google, Google Maps, TripIt, TripAdvisor, Twitter, Facebook, Meet-up, a smartphone, Uber, GoToMeeting, Skype, Viber, online bill pay, the Sydney public transportation app and more. I had a major setback when I dropped my Samsung Galaxy S5 in the Sydney Harbour on the third day of my trip. Kudos to Optus, who sold me a $79 phone and were able to replace my new SIM card quickly and efficiently at no additional cost. As someone who has never lost or damaged a cell phone, the lesson for me is to buy phone insurance, which I didn’t have. ;-(


Teri Ross is a digital marketing consultant who helps individuals and businesses turn their passions and products into revenue.