I spent some time in Australia over the holidays. Due to distance it’s a place many Americans haven’t been to, so I thought I’d summarize some observations:
The U.S. is significantly behind the rest of the world when it comes to credit cards. The rest of the world uses a much more secure “chip and pin” system for credit cards, and the U.S. is stuck using magnetic stripes. Many times when I was traveling, clerks in stores literally did not know what to do with my magnetic stripe card. I had to show them how to swipe it and then let me sign the receipt. U.S. banks need to catch up with the rest of the world on credit card security.
Virgin America airlines is known as a trend-setting, hip, cool airline in the U.S. Virgin Australia is the opposite. Their fleet is old, and they charge for basic beverages. Making passengers use their electronic devices for in-flight entertainment (delivered over WiFi for free) is nice, but it would be better if they had power ports at the seats to plug those devices into.
I ate out at a variety of restaurants - from Australian “bush” food, to Chinese yum chow, Italian, burgers, and Indian. I found most of the food to be average, but then again I enjoy good restaurants in the Bay Area. The food was measurably more expensive than in the states. I don’t mind expensive, but expensive average food is not a good combination. One exception: Savory pies - delicious, and available at corner shops. Also, eating kangaroo and wallaby was pretty good. Paying for bread with a meal is standard in Australia (so San Francisco with their infamous $4 toast shouldn’t feel so bad). Din Tai Fung in Sydney wasn’t nearly as good as it is Taipei.
The coffee (sorry, I mean, espresso, espresso short, espresso long, and cappuccinos) is really amazing. Even the stuff from McDonalds and Hungry Jack’s. It makes American coffee seem like watered down dirt.
The rental car company that leased me a car was very optimistic about my ability to drive on the left side of the road. It turned out to be easier than I had anticipated - I never accidentally went onto the right side of the road. The more difficult challenge was interpreting the different road signs and markings. Roundabouts are cool and useful. They calm traffic, facilitate gridlock, and make people pay attention to the road. The public transportation in Sydney was really great, although not cheap.
The people were much more friendly than in the states. Waiters and waitresses went out of their way to be friendly, despite not working for tips. [It’s often the opposite in the states: Bad service with an attitude of entitlement to a generous tip.] The taxi/shuttle drivers I had were all incredibly friendly and helpful, even though they weren’t compensated through gratuities. I really came to realize that Americans have a sense of entitlement that doesn’t exist elsewhere.
There are no Burger King’s. Only Hungry Jack’s (which apart from the name is the same as a Burger King). It was a trademark issue.
Australia has public health care, but the news was talking about increasing the prices because they can’t afford to pay for the current levels of coverage.
There is nothing more fun than holding a Koala bear.