If you haven’t noticed by the 13-part trip report, I really loved Sydney. Not only because I got to meet my dad’s side of the family (aka the best people in the world), but because I just loved the overall vibe. That being said, here are a few things I observed (both positive and negative) about Sydney:
- Australia Trip Report: Introduction
- Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Review
- United Club Lounge + United Global First 747 Honolulu – Tokyo
- Review: Thai Airways First Class A380 Tokyo – Bangkok
- Thai Airways Royal First Class Lounge & Spa Bangkok Review
- Thai Airways First Class 747 Bangkok to Sydney Review
- Christmas Eve on Darling Harbour
- Park Hyatt Sydney Opera King Room Review
- Park Hyatt Sydney: Room Service and Breakfast at The Dining Room
- Sydney Opera House and Manly Beach
- Hilton Sydney Review
- Air New Zealand Lounge + United 747 First Class: Sydney – San Francisco
- 6 Observations about Sydney
1. Sydney is not as expensive as everyone says
Sticker shock is something you hear from those who visit Sydney. In my experience it wasn’t that expensive. I went to several shopping malls and found great bargains. Plus, there are some great discount shops in the Blacktown area.
Restaurants and fast food shops are reasonably priced – even prices at Starbucks were similar to those in the US. The only time I experienced sticker shock was when I picked up some aloe vera gel from a local pharmacy after an awful sunburn. The price for a bottle that looked straight out of a 99 cent store? $15!
2. There are few religious institutions
Something that struck me when I came to the US as a kid were the number of religious institutions everywhere. There was a street in El Sobrante, CA where a new church was built across from an old one. In the town where I live, there are two churches adjacent to one another, with another one down the street. My former high school rents out the gym for church service on Sundays and every time a business closed during the recession, a religious institution opened in its place. It’s not even like I live in the bible belt – this is supposed to be God-less, liberal Northern California.
So after a while of driving around the various suburbs and walking through the city, I realized something was obviously different. There were hardly any religious institutions (I came across two). Perhaps Australians just aren’t as religious as Americans. In any case, this struck me as odd.
3. American brands are scarce
No Banana Republic, Sephora, or Forever 21 (thank God!). This makes it kind of tough to navigate a mall, but eventually you figure out what brands are worth buying and which ones to avoid.
Small businesses really dominate the scene. Even at shopping malls, you’ll find lots of non-chain shops. I loved how there were entire markets designated for folks who made a living unloading merchandise purchased in bulk from China. Small businesses seem to be thriving and I love that the spirit of independent business ownership is alive and well. You’ll hardly see a Starbucks outside of the really touristy parts of town. Contrast this with my suburban town, where we have seven Starbucks stores. I’ve been told most locals prefer local coffee shops over Starbucks anyway.
That being said, there was a 7-11 on practically every corner. Like, everywhere. I walked into a couple, hoping I’d hit the Vanilla Reload jackpot. No such luck, of course. Still, if you get a craving for a gallon of blue slushy, you will not have to go far.
4. The Opera House needs a power wash
Sorry, but I have to say it. The Opera House is looking pretty worn down. For a place that is constantly photographed and serves as the country’s tourism symbol, it needs to be in better shape. I understand cement structures are difficult to keep pretty. A nice coat of paint and a scrub down of the cement, and it will look as good as new.
Visiting the Opera House reminded me of going to a Britney Spears concert years ago: What you see in pictures does not measure up to the real thing. Worse for wear and past its prime.
5. Public Transportation
Getting from the suburbs to the city center is incredibly easy. With bus/train stations conveniently located near residential neighborhoods, there’s no need to drive. More importantly, public transportation is actually clean and pleasant. The trains aren’t as fast as say, the BART trains in the US, but they’re much more quiet and on the way to the city you’ll enjoy pleasant views of the surrounding suburbs.
6. They’re living the American Dream
The more I spoke with locals, the more I realized Americans are getting screwed. Tax-wise, they get more bang for their buck. Free universal health care and low-interest student loans that don’t have to be paid back until students graduate and obtain employment.
Speaking of employment, a bachelor’s degree is actually valued in Australia. My cousin is the same age as I am and got a great job at a tech firm straight out of college. Meanwhile, I frantically sent out resumes for 6 months before I got a job that required a BA, but that any middle school drop-out could do.
When I told my cousin that the average American family pulls in $50,000 per year, she looked seriously sad. “How do people survive?” This, after she told me about someone she know who makes $20 per hour working at K-Mart ($25 on weekends and two and a half times that on holidays).
Small businesses dominate, people are taken care of, education encouraged. After seeing the way people lived, I realized they are living the American Dream.
Final Thoughts on Sydney
I loved Sydney and look forward to returning and seeing more of Australia. Aside from meeting my dad’s side of the family for the first time and realizing how much I’d missed out by not knowing them all these years, I could totally see myself living there. The people are much more laid back, level-headed, and seem to have achieved a healthy work/life balance.
This trip marked the first time I returned home, feeling I was coming back to something better than I had left behind.